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Deltas provide diverse ecosystem services and benefits for their large populations. At the same time, deltas are also recognised as one of the most
vulnerable coastal environments, with a range of drivers operating at multiple scales, from global climate change and sea-level rise to delta-scale
subsidence and land cover change. Lastly, many delta populations experience significant poverty. Hence when the Ecosystem Services for Poverty
Alleviation (ESPA) programme was announced, we rapidly focussed on
deltas as an issue for study. The focus of the book is the world’s most
populated delta, the Ganges–Brahmaputra–Meghna Delta, and more
particularly within coastal Bangladesh west of the Lower Meghna River.
In our first visit to Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 2010, we recognised the complexity and challenges of understanding rural livelihoods in a dynamic delta.
We held an intensive multidisciplinary workshop of UK and Bangladeshi
scientists, followed by an inspiring visit to the Sundarbans. The resulting
debates and conclusions, supported by acres of white board conceptual
maps, formed the foundation that became the ESPA Deltas (Assessing
Health, Livelihoods, Ecosystem Services and Poverty Alleviation in Populous
Deltas) international consortium project. This involves more than 120 individuals and 21 institutions across Bangladesh, India and the UK. The collective thinking and experience of this team is distilled into this book, which
examines the present and future of ecosystem services and livelihoods in
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coastal Bangladesh. It reflects the strong commitment to integration and a
transdisciplinary approach, embracing disciplines as diverse as physical
oceanography, sediment dynamics, agriculture, demographics and poverty.
Input of policy experts and a substantial array of stakeholders are also fundamental. This study provided opportunities for substantial learning across
standard discipline boundaries, providing co-produced policy relevant outputs and insights. It also fostered a family of researchers who developed a
shared understanding that could be applied to this difficult and challenging
problem. This included effective sharing of knowledge and learning to question and contribute effectively outside an individual’s specialist field.
Integration is core to what has been accomplished here bringing
together natural and social sciences in ways that are distinct and groundbreaking. Such integration needs to start as the research is initiated and is
an ongoing process. Integration needs to be core to the project with key
questions and themes that are properly resourced. To be policy relevant,
the research must be guided by the perspectives, needs and expertise
encapsulated by local stakeholders, especially the decision-making processes and governance context of the deltas in question. Stakeholders
from civil society, the non-government sector and of course agencies of
government are all involved in policy formulation. Indeed, one of the
outstanding successes of the ESPA Deltas collaboration, which is reflected
in this book, has been the engagement with and the impact on the policy
context of Bangladesh. The research has raised, for the first time, consideration of ecosystem services, their links to poverty and livelihoods and
their influence in the national policy and planning process across a range
of government agencies including the Government of Bangladesh,
Planning Commission and other government partners such as the Water
Resources Planning Organization (WARPO). Indeed the Government of
Bangladesh has requested continued engagement and further development of some of the modelling tools in the context of the Bangladesh
Delta Plan 2100, which is a new national planning approach. Engaging
with policy was always a main aspiration of the research and is perhaps
the aspect of which we are most proud.
The research provides both the foundation and analyses which has led
to some of its most innovative approaches and significant insights. This
book offers an overarching and integrated framework to analyse changing
Preface xix
ecosystem services in deltas and the implications for human well-being,
focussing in particular on the provisioning ecosystem services of agriculture, inland and offshore capture fisheries, aquaculture and mangroves that
directly support livelihoods. Each chapter contributes to the wider integrated assessment. Indeed, throughout the book there are reflections on
the process of integrating information on the different environmental,
social and economic dimensions of coastal management. The more detailed
work supports significant conclusions that challenge elements of the perceived wisdom concerning human–environment relations and progress for
the future, under the Sustainable Development Goals. We highlight, for
example, that while ecosystem services support all populations in deltas,
they act as a more critical safety net for the poorest and most marginalised
delta populations. We show that while climate change has a real and tangible impact on the coastal zone, demographic, social dynamics and policy
changes are likely to be more significant until at least 2050.
This book is not intended as a tool kit or specific guide to conducting
integrated research in deltas or major coastal systems throughout the
world. It offers, rather, a detailed account of a major integrative assessment relevant to development dilemmas in major ecosystems where biophysical, ecological and social dimensions are strongly coupled. This
approach can be generalised beyond tropical deltas and even coastal
zones; it addresses fundamental questions regarding the relationship of
ecosystem services to the welfare of diverse rural communities that are
important in every corner of the world today.

  • Publisher: Springer Nature Switzerland AG
  • Website:
  • Author(s): Edited by Robert J. Nicholls, Craig W. Hutton, W. Neil Adger, Susan E. Hanson, Md. Munsur Rahman and Mashfiqus Salehin
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