Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

3 - The Ghost of Climates Past: Shifted Baselines of Disaster Mitigation in Vietnam and Bangladesh

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Thurgood Marshall North, Mezzanine

Within the already disaster-prone Asia Pacific, the Mekong and Ganges deltas are distinctly vulnerable, with each having weathered numerous catastrophic floods and storms in recent history. Floodplains are naturally flood-prone, and populations residing in these fertile regions have devised a range of livelihood strategies, infrastructural designs, and agricultural techniques over the course of generations to effectively cope with and take advantage of cyclical inundation. In addition, people have been transforming these landscapes in response to rare and extreme weather events through the construction of sea walls, embankments, sluice gates, and polders. While such technologies were introduced in the 1960s to protect lives, livelihoods, and property, they have had unintended impacts on the deltas’ hydrology, significantly altering sedimentation dynamics, erosion rates, and flow regimes, to name a few. Understandings and perceptions of the Ganges and Mekong “hydro-hazardscapes” are further complicated as long-held concerns about sustaining life in a dynamic delta are now coalescing with emerging fears about new threats emanating from climate change. This paper contrasts the historical development of flood and saline water control in Vietnam and Bangladesh with recent and planned climate change adaptation measures. I find that contemporary rather than historical hydrological conditions serve as the baseline for disaster mitigation efforts. Disaster planning in both countries indicates that greater attention is being paid to the symptoms of current conditions rather than with the processes that created them, such that some large-scale and capital-intensive projects may fail to meaningfully reduce disaster risks because their root causes remain unaddressed.

Kimberley Thomas

Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania

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3 - The Ghost of Climates Past: Shifted Baselines of Disaster Mitigation in Vietnam and Bangladesh



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