Shifting Grounds: Institutional transformation, enhancing knowledge and capacity to manage groundwater security in peri-urban Ganges delta systems

This research aims to ensure equitable sharing and sustainable management of groundwater across caste/class and gender of peri-urban communities in the Ganges delta of Bangladesh and India.

Key audiences to be targeted during the research include:

  • National (e.g. Water Resource Investigation Board, Government of West Bengal) and local city government actors (e.g. Khulna City Corporation and Khulna Development Authority, and Kolkata Municipal Corporation)
  • Peri-urban communities in Khulna and Kolkata (Sunarpore and Barrakpore Blocks; Phultala and Bathiagata Blocks)
  • The media, researchers and international policy makers



Project leader: Dr L.M. (Leon) Hermans (Delft University of Technology)

Consortium partners: A. Prakash (SaciWATERs), M.S.A. Khan (Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), R. Kempers (Both Ends), A.T.M.Z. Hussain (Jagrata Juba Shanga), P. S. Banerjee (The Researcher)

Consortium partners (institutions): SaciWATERs, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), Both Ends, Jagrata Juba Shanga, The Researcher


In cities such as Khulna in Bangladesh and Kolkata in India, rapid urbanization has resulted in an increasing pressure on groundwater resources in peri-urban areas, evident from uncoordinated overexploitation of aquifers and a reduced access for vulnerable groups. The Shifting Grounds project combines innovative research with local development and capacity building to address the dynamic interactions between institutions, groundwater and livelihoods in these peri-urban areas.

Four peri-urban villages have been selected that have suitable characteristics for research, and with local communities willing and able to partner with the project in working on their problems. Researchers have developed analytical frameworks for their work and conducted first assessments on groundwater systems, livelihoods and institutions. On this basis, research and capacity development activities with the selected village communities are being intensified, following the principles of the Negotiated Approach.

Findings so far show indeed dynamics in livelihoods, with a decline in rice farming, an increase in fish cultivation, and more daily workers and services. In relation to (ground)water, issues were raised by villagers concerning water quality, (drinking) water supply, conflicts and tensions over uncoordinated construction and use of water wells, conflicting needs between rice and fish farming, but also wider problems with (clogging of) irrigation and drainage canals leading to both water shortages and flooding.

Institutional dynamics show a shift over time from formal to more diverse informal mechanisms for securing access to water by villagers.

Project activities now move towards the more integrative analyses and further use of research knowledge to support local communities and government stakeholders. This will create knowledge about the dynamics in peri-urban groundwater management and about the usefulness of multi-dimensional groundwater poverty assessment, game theory and groundwater modelling to support local stakeholders in solving complex problems in a participatory way.


Urbanizing deltas in south Asia have seen rapid growth and change. In cities such as Khulna in Bangladesh and Kolkata in India, this has resulted in an increasing pressure on groundwater resources in peri-urban areas. Existing institutions fail to ensure an equitable sharing and sustainable use of groundwater resources in this changing environment, which is evident from the uncoordinated overexploitation of aquifers and a reduced access for vulnerable groups.

This project investigates institutional developments, looking at the dynamic interactions between different groundwater users, the groundwater systems and the influence of nearby cities. The insights should help local stakeholders to negotiate institutional transformations that support a more sustainable and equitable use of groundwater resources.

Research activities are combined with workshops to strengthen the negotiation capacities of local stakeholders. Khulna and Kolkata provide an excellent basis for an institutional comparison, being part of the same Ganges delta system, yet located in different countries.


Scientific article

Professional publication

  • R. Kempers, K.F. Islam, P.S. Banerjee, P. Banerjee, S.A. Khan, V. Narain, W.A.H. Thissen, S. Majumdar, M. Salehin, S.N. Huda, S.L. Gomes, R. Hasan, B. Majumdar, L.M. Hermans, A.T.M.Z. Hossain(2019): Crossing the frontiers pp. 1 - 57

Publication meant for a broad audience

Publications for the general public


Project number

W 07.69.104

Main applicant

Prof. dr. ir. W.A.H. Thissen

Affiliated with

Technische Universiteit Delft, Faculteit Techniek, Bestuur en Management, Policy Analysis

Team members

Mr. P.S. Banerjee, Dr. P. Banerjee, Dr. A. Barua, Dr. ir. C. van Daalen, K. Debnath, S.L. Gomes, R. Hasan, Dr. ir. L.M. Hermans, R. Hossain, Mr. Z. Hossain, K.F. Hossain, Drs. R. Kempers, S. Majumdar, B. Majumdar, Dr. V. Narain, Dr. M. Salehin, Dr. S. Sen, Prof. dr. M. Shah Alam Khan, Prof. dr. ir. W.A.H. Thissen


01/10/2014 to 31/03/2019