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Towards a “fluid” governance: hydrosocial analysis of flood paradigms and management practices in Ganges and Rhone basins (India, France and Switzerland)

English title https://servo.snf.ch/ar/team/interco/snfdok/2018_India_Call_16.04.2017.docx
Applicant Véron René
Number 180395
Funding scheme Resource not found: 'b5628dcd-e5af-466b-a466-0a2b34735ae5'
Research institution Institut de géographie et durabilité Faculté des géosciences et de l'environnemen Université de Lausanne
Institution of higher education University of Lausanne - LA
Main discipline Social geography and ecology
Start/End 01.05.2019 - 30.06.2023
Approved amount 234'488.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Discipline
Social geography and ecology
General history (without pre-and early history)

Keywords (6)

rivers; political ecology; environmental history; hydrosocial cycle; flood governance; floods

Lay Summary (German)

Lead
Durch Landnutzungs- und Klimaveränderungen verursachte und erhöhte Überschwemmungsgefahren stellen uns vor grosse soziale, ökonomische und Umwelt-Herausforderungen. Überflutungen führen zu materiellen Schäden, wirtschaftlichen Verlusten, psychologischen Stress und menschlichen Opfern. Regierungen haben auf Flutrisiken mit besonderen Massnahmen reagiert, wie z.B. Uferbefestigungen oder der Wiederherstellung von Überschwemmungsebenen. Jedoch implizieren solche infrastrukturelle Interventionen auch räumliche und zeitliche Veränderungen des Wasserflusses und der Sedimentierung, welche dann oft zu neuen Gefahren führen und Spannungen zwischen der lokalen Bevölkerung und Regierungsbehörden auslösen. Deshalb sind Überflutungen, Massnahmen zu ihrer Einbindung und zugrundeliegende Paradigmen auch immer politisch und mit Gerechtigkeitsfragen verbunden.
Lay summary

Diese Forschung hat zum Ziel zu zeigen, wie natürliche Gefahren, soziale Verwundbarkeiten und lokale Anpassungsstrategien von Kontrollmassnahmen zur Einschränkung von Hochwasser mitgeprägt werden und wie im Gegenzug erstere die Gouvernanzpraktiken beeinflussen. Um diesen Fragen nachzugehen, wendet diese Studie einen hydro-sozialen Ansatz an. Dieser betont, dass Wasserkreislauf und Fluten gemeinsam durch soziopolitische sowie natürlich-physikalische Prozesse geprägt werden. Der hydro-soziale Ansatz wird des Weiteren durch eine umwelthistorische Perspektive ergänzt, um auch langfristige, strukturelle Leitlinien der Gouvernanz bezüglich Überschwemmungen berücksichtigen zu können. Dabei kann sich die internationale und interdisziplinäre Forschungsgruppe auf die akademischen Disziplinen der Geographie, Politikwissenschaften, Geschichte und Ethnologie abstützen.

Die empirische Untersuchungen werden in der Rhone-Ebene (zwischen Sion und Martigny in der Schweiz und zwischen Avignon und Arles in Frankreich) sowie im Ganges-Delta (in den Sundarbans südlich von Kalkutta) durchgeführt. Diese Flusslandschaften wurden seit langem von Überschwemmungen geprägt, können Perzeptionen bezüglich Fluten in verschiedenen Zeitaltern aufzeigen und verschiedene Kontrollmassnahmen beleuchten, welche auf unterschiedlichen Technologien und Gouvernanz-Systemen beruhen. Die empirische Forschung bezieht sich auf die gegenwärtige Situation als auch auf das Zeitalter der frühen Moderne (17.-19. Jahrhundert). Damit wird diese Studie zur Debatte über die Gouvernanz von Flutrisiken beitragen, welche mit Hinsicht auf den Klimawandel an gesellschaftlicher Relevanz gewonnen hat. In Zusammenarbeit mit lokalen Akteuren und basierend auf den Forschungsresultaten aus diversen Gebieten und Epochen wird das Projektteam über das Potenzial einer flexibleren, anpassungsfähigen Gouvernanz reflektieren, um besser mit Ungewissheit und den sozio-ökologischen Prozessen bezüglich Wasserflüsse, Sedimente, Landwirtschaft und Bevölkerung umgehen zu können.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 18.12.2018

Lay Summary (French)

Lead
Le risque inondation, lié aux changements d’usage des sols et aux changements climatiques, représente un enjeu environnemental, social et économique majeur. Les inondations provoquent des dégâts matériels, des pertes économiques, du stress psychologique voire même parfois des victimes humaines. Les autorités gouvernementales ont réagi aux risques inondation par des mesures de protection et de lutte contre le risque, comme la construction de digues ou la restauration de plaines d’inondation. Mais les aménagements physiques visant à maîtriser le risque modifient la répartition spatiale et temporelle des écoulements d’eau et de la dynamique sédimentaire. Ainsi, ces mesures risquent de générer de nouveaux types d’aléas et de provoquer des tensions entre les communautés locales et les autorités. Par conséquent, les inondations, leur gestion et les paradigmes sous-jacents, sont liées à des questions de justice et représentent un enjeu politique.
Lay summary

Cette recherche vise à mieux comprendre comment la gestion des inondations influence l’aléa, la vulnérabilité, ainsi que les réactions des communautés et comment, en retour, ces derniers ont un effet sur la gouvernance des inondations. En abordant ces questions, cette étude s’appuie sur une analyse hydro-sociale soulignant la codétermination des processus sociopolitiques et des dynamiques physiques. Par ailleurs, l’analyse hydro-sociale est combinée avec l’histoire environnementale afin de prendre en compte les trajectoires structurelles et de longue durée de la gouvernance des inondations. Dans cette démarche, l’équipe de recherche internationale et interdisciplinaire peut s’appuyer sur la géographie, les sciences politiques, l’histoire et l’anthropologie sociale.

Les terrains de cette recherche se situent dans le bassin du Rhône (entre Sion et Martigny en Suisse et entre Avignon et Arles en France) ainsi que dans le delta du Ganges (plus précisément dans les Sundarbans au sud de Calcutta). Ces paysages fluviaux sont porteurs d’une histoire d’inondations fréquentes. Ils offrent un terrain propice à l’analyse de la perception des inondations sur différentes périodes historiques ainsi que des réponses apportées à ce risque, s’appuyant sur diverses technologies et sur des modes variés de gouvernance. Le travail empirique couvre la période contemporaine ainsi que celle de l’époque moderne du 17e au 19e siècle. Ainsi, cette recherche contribue aux débats sur la gouvernance des risques d’inondations qui ont gagné en pertinence au vu des changements climatiques. En collaboration avec des acteurs locaux et sur la base de résultats de recherche émanant de divers terrains et périodes, le projet explore enfin la possibilité d’une gouvernance plus « fluide » afin de pouvoir mieux faire face à l’incertitude et aux processus socio-écologiques complexes qui mêlent les écoulements d’eau, les sédiments, l’agriculture et les habitants.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 18.12.2018

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Floods are land-use- and climate-related hazards posing important environmental, social and economic challenges. They cause physical damage, economic loss, psychological stress and human casualties. Government authorities have responded to flood hazards through flood management measures, such as the construction of embankments or the restoration of floodplains. However, physical flood-control interventions modify the spatial and temporal distribution of water flows and sedimentation often creating new sets of hazards that can lead to tensions between local communities and government authorities. As a consequence, floods, their management and underlying paradigms are linked to equity issues and they are imbued with politics.
Lay summary

This research seeks to explore how flood-management approaches reshape hazards, vulnerabilities and community responses – and, in turn, how these influence governance practices. To address these questions, the study applies a hydro-social analysis that emphasizes that water cycles and floods are co-determined by sociopolitical processes and physical dynamics. The hydro-social analysis is furthermore combined with environmental history to also consider long-term structural trajectories of flood governance. Thereby, the international and interdisciplinary research team can draw upon the disciplines of geography, political science, history and social anthropology.

Empirical investigations will be conducted in the Rhone floodplains (between Sion and Martigny in Switzerland and between Avignon and Arles in France) as well as in the Ganges delta (i.e. the Sundarbans south of Kolkata). These riverscapes encapsulate a rich history of floods and how these had been perceived during different historical periods, and dealt with relying on varied technologies and governance systems. Empirical research will cover both the contemporary situation and that of the early modern times (17th-19th century). Doing so, this study will contribute to the debates on flood-risk governance that have become more relevant in view of climate change. Finally, together with local stakeholders and based on the research findings from different sites and periods, the project will reflect on the potential of a more ‘fluid’ governance to better deal with uncertainty and complex socio-ecological processes around water flows, sediments, agricultural production and populations.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 18.12.2018

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Project partner

Publications

Publication
Le Rhône, ce fleuve que la France et la Suisse ont largement dompté… à tort ou à raison ?
MetzgerAlexis, BrochetAntoine, GuerrinJoana, MoreraRaphaël (2021), Le Rhône, ce fleuve que la France et la Suisse ont largement dompté… à tort ou à raison ?, The Conversation, Paris.
Histories of Urban Deltascapes: A Comparison of Arles and Kolkata
Mukherjee Jenia, Morera Raphaël, Guerrin Joana, Véron René (2021), Histories of Urban Deltascapes: A Comparison of Arles and Kolkata, in Global Environment, 14(3), 505-534.
From asset to threat: trajectory of sediment on the Rhône River
Guerrin Joana, Comby Emeline, Morera Raphaël (2021), From asset to threat: trajectory of sediment on the Rhône River, in Water History, 13, 1.
Dénaturaliser et repolitiser la catastrophe par-delà les clichés ? Lecture critique de la série photographique Portraits submergés de G. Mendel
MetzgerAlexis, GuinardPauline (2021), Dénaturaliser et repolitiser la catastrophe par-delà les clichés ? Lecture critique de la série photographique Portraits submergés de G. Mendel, in Mappemonde, 130, 3.
Catastrophes climatiques. 21 idées reçues pour comprendre et agir
MetzgerAlexis (2021), Catastrophes climatiques. 21 idées reçues pour comprendre et agir, Le cavalier bleu, Paris.
Pourquoi le Rhône n’est pas (encore) un patrimoine en Suisse
Metzger Alexis (2020), Pourquoi le Rhône n’est pas (encore) un patrimoine en Suisse, in Reynard Emmanuel, Dubois Alain, Borgeat Muriel (ed.), Vallesia, Sion, 251-267.
Fluid Epistemologies: The Social Saga of Sediments in Bengal
MukherjeeJenia, GhoshPritwinath (2020), Fluid Epistemologies: The Social Saga of Sediments in Bengal, in Ecology, Economy and Society – The INSEE Journal , 3(2), 135-148.
Récits d’action publique et opérations de traductions : la restauration écologique du fleuve Rhône (France)
Guerrin Joana, Barone Sylvain (2020), Récits d’action publique et opérations de traductions : la restauration écologique du fleuve Rhône (France), in Politique et Sociétés, 39(2), 49-49.
Enriching the Institutional Resource Regime framework with the politics of scale approach
Nahrath Stéphane, Guerrin Joana (2019), Enriching the Institutional Resource Regime framework with the politics of scale approach, in Environmental Science & Policy, 102, 18-25.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
EDHEA, école du design et haute-école d'art du Valais Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Royal Geographical Society - Annual Conference Talk given at a conference A historical political ecology of the Rhone’s spatialities in Switzerland (19th-21st) 01.09.2021 London, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Metzger Alexis;
Les Territoires de Montagne face aux risques et aux changements climatiques : Enjeux, approches et perspectives Talk given at a conference Critiquer la troisieme correction du Rhone en Suisse et ne pas faire le jeu du conser- vatisme : un equilibre difficile 06.07.2021 Grenoble, France Metzger Alexis;
5th International conference on Public Policy Talk given at a conference “Sustainable safety” for the Rhône plain in Switzerland? Political ecology of an apparent “nature-based solution” 05.07.2021 Barcelona, Spain Véron René; Metzger Alexis;
Séminaire Water group Individual talk L’eau et la terre du Rhône en Valais: frontières mouvantes 12.05.2020 Lausanne, Switzerland Metzger Alexis;
RUSA 2.0 workshop on Jal, Jangal and Jameen and Us Individual talk Risks and Resilience in the "Muddyscape" Historical and Political Ecological Narratives surrounding Kolkata’s Ecological Infrastructures 01.02.2020 Calcutta, India Mukherjee Jenia;
Séminaire laboratoire EDYTEM Individual talk Les inondations du Rhône en Suisse. La political ecology à l’embuscade 30.01.2020 Chambéry, France Metzger Alexis;
Teaching Environmental Humanities workshop organized by the Art and Humanities Centre Individual talk Risky or Resilient? Reading Urban History using the Deltaic Lens 15.01.2020 Abu Dhabi , United Arab Emirates Mukherjee Jenia;
CLOC Knowledge2Action Dialogue Workshop Poster Governing people with floods? Toward fluid governance practices in the Sundarbans Delta and the Valais 13.01.2020 Bangalore, India Metzger Alexis; Véron René; Mukherjee Jenia;
Delta/Coastal Cities Workshop Talk given at a conference Vulnerable or Resilient: Exploring Challenges and Potentials of an Indian Delta City using Historical Urban Political Ecology 19.10.2019 Shangai, China Mukherjee Jenia;


Self-organised

Title Date Place
Session Questioning the turn of water-related risk policies towards nature 05.07.2021 Barcelona, Spain
Insights from Environmental History: objects, methods and perspectives 26.04.2021 Lausanne, Switzerland

Knowledge transfer events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Date Place Persons involved
10th International Session of the Initiatives for the Future of Great Rivers Workshop 30.09.2021 Geneva, Switzerland Véron René;


Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
Talks/events/exhibitions Weathered History International 2021
Media relations: print media, online media Bonbibi: A Religion of the Forest in the Sundarbans Environment & Society Portal, Arcadia International 2020
Media relations: print media, online media https://india.mongabay.com/2019/12/commentary-cyclone-bulbul-in-the-indian-sundarbans-another-lesson Mongabay International 2019

Abstract

The frequency, intensity and scale of hazards are increasing within the contemporary context of global climate change. Floods are the most common and the most destructive hazards, causing landscape and environmental changes, material damages, economic losses and human casualties. Large sums of money are invested to reduce flood hazards in both Europe and South Asia. Generally perceived as ‘natural calamities’ and defined as ‘phenomena of an atmospheric, hydrological or oceanographic nature’, floods are commonly fought against with technological measures. However, the severe crises we continue to observe suggest the need for a wider perspective to understand, tackle and deal with floods. Such a perspective is to incorporate socio-ecological processes, power relations and the ‘thickness’ of the human-river relation. It is within this context that this project aims to understand floods beyond technical approaches by emphasizing that inundations are strongly dependant on territorial and historicized dynamics and negotiations; imbued with politics, equity and cultural issues; and located at the intersection of sustainability and wellbeing. The Rhone and the Ganges basins are the specific field sites for this research as these rivers encapsulate a rich history of floods as well as perceptions and coping strategies, determined by varied technological choices, governance systems and cultural trajectories, over different historical periods. Both contexts have encountered interventionist hydraulic regimes and complex institutional frameworks since early modern times. Moreover, the western capitalist water management discourse led to a binary separation between ‘land’ and ‘water’, excluding (and hence reclaiming) all other hybrid possibilities like fens, bogs, marshes, chars (riverine islands) from hydraulic planning and management as these were considered ‘treacherous’ i.e. with no commercial value. The natural value of these hybrid land(water)scapes in retaining flood water, involving community knowledge and skills since historical times, were not recognized, which often aggravated floods. Under these circumstances: How did communities adjust, react and respond to the disruptions caused by inundations? What had been the community perception of floods and practices to deal/cope with floods before technocratic interventions took place during the capitalist-modernist regime? What were the interactions, sometimes conflicting, between local communities and authorities in charge of flood protection?Combining environmental history and political ecology, the project aims to examine governance practices in the Rhone and the Ganges Basins, exploring complex action and reaction loops, involving physical processes, state and community interventions and responses. We will conduct empirical investigations of processes of flood governance, highlighting tensions and negotiations between authorities and communities. To enrich and enlarge our perspective, we choose to investigate contrasted field sites in the Rhone and Ganges floodplains, in current settings as well as in early modern (17th-19th centuries) times. The historical analysis will precede the contemporary analysis in order to enrich our understanding of contemporary dynamics with the analysed historical ‘hydrosocial moments’ and trajectories in three field sites (the Ganges between Kolkata and Sagar in India, the Rhone between Avignon and Arles in France and between Sion and Martigny in Switzerland). The analytical framework to study floods, i.e.the hydro(sediment)social cycle, encompasses numerous biophysical and social realities across transforming temporal trajectories. The planned detailed coverage on floods, reflecting perceptions and perspectives of multiple stakeholders in both historical and contemporary settings is expected to enable policy makers to move beyond universal, static, quick-fix solutions for flood control towards what could be considered as ‘fluid governance’. It would also highlight the need to focus on local ‘hazardscapes’ and incorporate its specific dynamics within disaster planning and flood risk governance.
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