Hydro-Social Deltas": Understanding flows of water and people to improve policies and strategies for disaster risk reduction and sustainable development of delta areas in the Netherlands and Bangladesh

The focus of the research is strengthening urban flood resilience in Bangladesh and the Netherlands by understanding how environmental and climate migration guide urban Disaster Risk Reduction and delta policies.

Key audiences are urban and regional planners, flood management/ disaster Risk Reduction managers, urban stakeholders, and authorities of rural communities `left behind’.



This project will develop a conceptual framework for analysing deltas as highly interdependent humanwater systems to examine the interplay between hydrological (flooding, riverbank erosion, waterlogging) and social processes (demographic shifts, urbanization processes, governance) in the urbanizing delta of Bangladesh and the urbanized delta of the Netherlands. Obvious differences aside, both countries are involved in long-term climate change-induced system planning in dynamic deltas.

The project will acknowledge the dynamic interactions and feedback loops between demographic and physical changes, urban processes, mobility and flood risk. This advanced understanding will be used to: shift existing simplifying policy discourse on 'climate refugees' and negative perceptions of urban
migration; improve the implementation and coordination between existing policies; reduce vulnerability for migrants and support sustainable pro-poor development approaches in Bangladesh; increase flood resilience in the Netherlands and Bangladesh.

A trans-disciplinary research approach will work at the interface between social science and hydrological science to question key assumptions regarding the one-way processes of environmental and climate migration now guiding urban DRR and delta policies and dominating the media. The research will also work at the policy/research interface to inform policy discourse and raise awareness of policy makers and planners in regards to the linkages between demographic and hydrological flows, and the impacts of this relationship on existing plans and policies.

The project will include two PhD studies based on coordinated fieldwork primarily in Bangladesh that will focus on understanding how the interactions and feedbacks between water and human systems impact on DRR strategies and urban development, and vice versa. It will pay particular attention to ways in which governance processes in both physical disaster sites and host locations affect migration and human interventions, which will (in turn) affect the physical environment.

A post-doctoral position will combine the empirical data and the outcomes of the two PhD studies to: explore how demographic transitions in southwest Netherlands impact Dutch flood management policies; develop a conceptual model for understanding flows of water and flows of people; examine how post-urbanisation trajectories such as that followed by the Netherlands may inform future planning elsewhere, with Bangladesh as a focus country.

A third, overarching research programme to be carried out by the more senior consortium members and MSc students under their guidance, will integrate research findings from both the Netherlands and Bangladesh.


Scientific article

Book or monography

  • W.V. Vriens(2016): Framing Migration in context of Climate Change: Obscuring and Opportunities

Publical information

  • M.R.F. Ferdous(2015): Understanding the dynamic interplay between hydrological and social processes in the southwest coastal region of Bangladesh
  • A.W. Wesselink(2015): Hydro-Social Deltas: Understanding flows of water and people


Project number

W 07.69.110

Main applicant

Dr. M.E. Kooy

Affiliated with

UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education

Team members

Dr. L. Brandimarte, Dr. M.M.J. van Eerd, Dr. B.J. Jansen, Dr. M.E. Kooy, Dr. M. Marchand, Dr. A. Rahman, F. Ruknul, W.H. Shah, Dr. P. Sultana, Dr. A. Syed, Dr. P.F. Thompson, Dr. J.F. Warner, Dr. ir. A.J. Wesselink


01/09/2014 to 30/08/2018