A Delta plan with a resilience assessment please!

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BY Albert Sikkema |

November 2018

A delta plan can help keep feet dry but it can also have other, sometimes unintended, effects. Public administration expert Art Dewulf is coordinating a study of the effects of delta interventions in Vietnam and Bangladesh. Who decides policy, who benefits from it, and who gets the short straw? Key issues for the resilience of a delta region.

The Mekong delta in Vietnam is the rice bowl of South-east Asia. Many rice farmers in this delta get three rice harvests per year, but that is only possible if their land is behind three-metre-high dykes that keep back the rising water during the rainy season. Those dykes were built for the rice farmers but now that the land is dry all year, it is often more lucrative to grow vegetables. What is more, the soil quality is going down because the influx of nutrients in the floodwaters has been stopped.

Mekongdelta in Vietnam.

PHOTO Shutterstock

Left: The Mekong delta in Vietnam is the rice bowl of south-east Asia. Right: farmers in the Tangail area of Bangladesh are better protected and therefore get better harvests thanks to the construction of a dyke. PHOTOS Shutterstock

The added value of the delta intervention declines 10 to 20 years after the dykes are built, says public administration expert Art Dewulf. He and Long Hoang of the Water Systems and Global Change group are leading research in the Mekong delta.

Falling yields

At first, the dyke-building project in the Mekong delta worked out brilliantly for the rice farmers because they could get higher yields every year. But now they are facing falling yields and lower prices, and the increase in vegetable farming is getting in the way of rice farming. “The resilience of the rice farmers is now going down,” says Dewulf.

The dyke-building project in the Mekong delta worked brilliantly at first, but the resilience of the rice farmers is going down now

Something similar is going on in Bangladesh, where Dewulf leads research together with development sociologist Jeroen Warner. In the 1990s, a dyke was built around an area of 130 square kilometres in the delta district of Tangail. The farmers in the region have been more protected since then, their yields have been improving and their land is worth more. But the farmers outside the dyke now face an increased risk of flooding because the waters of the Ganges have to go somewhere.


Prof. Art Dewulf


Personal professor in the Public Administration and Policy group at Wageningen University & Research

Resilience research

Research on the effects of delta interventions on the resilience of a delta region


Art Dewulf works on this research together with a team of scientists at Wageningen University & Research and Can Tho University in Vietnam in the environmental sciences and social sciences

Many rice farmers in the Mekong delta get up to three rice harvests a year.

PHOTO Phuong Nguyen/Shutterstock.

In the course of delta planning, policymakers should identify these kinds of impacts beforehand, in Dewulf’s view. “We argue for a ‘social resilience impact assessment’ along the lines of an environmental impact assessment. In it, you would outline the consequences for all the sections of the population that would be affected by a delta intervention. Then you can prevent unintended side effects and think about mitigating measures for these groups. There is no resilience assessment of this kind in the delta plans at present.”

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