Social and Environmental Change in Bangladesh: Integrated Social, Environmental and Engineering (ISEE) Model

by Mofizur Rahman1* and Sadia Afrin Nitu1

Bangladesh’s coastal environment is highly complex due to the ever changing nature of both its physical and social features. Recent changes include, for example, decreasing fresh-water sources and rapid growth of the coastal population. Bangladesh, which is a tectonically active delta, is one of the most densely populated coastal countries in the world; almost 40 million people currently live along the coast. As a result, Bangladesh is considered the world’s third most vulnerable country to sea-level rise. The increased frequency of cyclones, extensive poldering and water logging add additional stresses to this poverty-prone landscape, leading to livelihood changes and/or population displacement.

Image iconrahman-website1_2.jpg ISEE Bangladesh Research Team. Photo credit- Mr. Rana

Researchers from Vanderbilt and Columbia University, respectively, have begun looking at the changes in the coastal environment from both the natural and social sciences perspectives. It is a multidisciplinary team applying an Integrated Social, Environmental and Engineering (ISEE) Model http://www.vanderbilt.edu/ISEEBangladesh/about.php. As part of this research, one of Vanderbilt’s social science teams, headed by Associate Professor Dr. Brooke Ackerly of the Department of Political Science, is working to understand the social, political and economic components underlying migration patterns and local adaptive strategies. Her team’s goal is to understand the key variables which explain the impact of the environment on the population, and vice versa.

Their most recent field work will send 40 researchers, including us, to survey communities living in remote coastal communities under the supervision of Dr. Bishwajit Malllik (Post-Doctoral Research Fellow) and Anna C. Carella (Ph.D. student) to understand the coupled human-landscape interactions in eleven Upazillas in three coastal districts.

Image iconrahman-website2_2.jpg Polders in the Southern part of Bangladesh

The project area is located in the South West costal region of Bangladesh. From the map above,

the study area could be recognized clearly. These were the areas that suffered most during the landmark disasters created by cyclones Aila (2009) and SIDR (2007). As a Research Supervisor, we will lead a sub-group of 7 enumerators to explore the unique fabric of a few of these communities through key informant interviews (KII) and a household survey. This is a unique journey towards the unknown as very little research has been done in the coastal areas of Bangladesh in such integrated way. We are very excited to be a part of it. Our research methods include cutting-edge technologies, such as a smart phone application which will geo-reference household information with unique photo ID tags and audio recorded interviews.

 

1. Research Supervisor: Social components of ISEE Project.

*Alumni 2013, Environmental Leadership Program, College of Natural Resources, University of California Berkeley, USA

This article represents our own views, not necessarily those of the entire project team.

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