UWD Hydro-social Deltas project : Exchange workshop

Lessons for flood risk management from resilience framing in the Netherlands and Bangladesh

Group work task description

Anna Wesselink

1 Overall aim

The aim of the group work is to find differences and similarities in resilience in the domain of water management in The Netherlands (NL) and Bangladesh (BD), and to formulate recommendations from this comparison on how we can continue to live in these locations in the longer term (100-500 years). It is expected that the effects of climate change on sea levels, rainfall and river discharges in the future will make the current ways of delta living increasingly difficult, which is made worse by continuing subsidence of the land.
We have opted for Dordrecht and Dhaka as the two cases that will be compared in order to limit our case study are to something manageable both in terms of data and overview. These cities are similar because they are both urban delta cities, but the flood risk management (FRM) strategies are different. The two cities are also different because the socio-economic conditions are very dissimilar. Finally, we note that even the concept of ‘flood’ has a different meaning in the two cities: in Dhaka it includes flooding from excess rainwater, while in Dordrecht this would be labelled ‘overlast’ (nuisance) which has a connotation of not to be taken seriously, contrary to flooding from rivers or the sea.

We are aiming to produce a scientific paper as well as policy briefs on the work; any other suggestions are welcome.

2 Work flow & Organisation

For the overall programme please refer to the workshop programme document. During the workshop we will take the following steps to achieve realise the comparison described above:


  1.  start with a shared understanding of resilience
  2.  decide on a comparative framework so we are comparing like with like


  1. collect the information to fill this framework for the two cases
  2. assess the resilience of the two cases from this information
  3. evaluate your assumptions

Participants will be split into 3 groups with mixed disciplinary backgrounds and mixed nationalities. Each group will work through questions 3 to 5 independently, in an iterative fashion if time allows. This means that steps 3 to 4 will be repeated if any improvements are proposed by the group in step 5. Each group will prepare a presentation of their work for the closure event on Friday 16 February PM, where a panel of experts will comment on the findings.

3 Definition of resilience and assessment framework

This section proposes the starting points 1 and 2 in the above list. We will discuss and review these proposals at the start of our workweek. While many assessment frameworks and indicators are available in the scientific literature, we have chosen to take a ‘bottoms up’ approach in this workweek. This means that we are creating our own assessment framework at the same time as doing the assessment. We nevertheless need some starting points, which are proposed below.

3.1 Resilience (task 1)

We are using ‘system’ to mean the inseparable combination of society and its environment, and the measures that were taken to modify the environment for society’s benefit. In deltas, the interdependency between societies, their natural environment and technological intervention is particularly obvious. We focus on the systems in Dhaka and Dordrecht.

There are two definitions of resilience. The first is a common sense understanding. It interprets resilience as bouncing back after disturbance, or recovery to what you were before in more general terms. In this definition there is often an implicit focus on resisting change and/or control change to maintain stability. We see that this is what societies try to do with regards to delta living, by focussing on investments in flood defence and drainage infrastructures, although there are examples of moves away from this ‘hard’ FRM (Wesselink et al. 2015).

The second one is proposed by one of the prominent scholars on this issue (Folke 2016 p.2). Here, resilience is having the capacity to persist in the face of change by adapting or even transforming into new development pathways. Adaptation refers to human actions that sustain development on current pathways, while transformation is about shifting development into other emergent pathways and even creating new ones.

In the second understanding, a system can change dramatically (=transform) while still being resilient. This intuitively contradicts the first, common sense definition. It is also not an option chosen voluntarily by societies, so we do not want to consider (planned) transformations in our assessment of resilience. However, we do propose to include adaptation as a possible solution to creating resilience, in addition to resistance. To note that the distinction between the two is often unclear: is the construction of levees (=dikes) resisting floods or adapting the land for human occupation? It is usually seen as the former, while the latter could also be argued: it depends on your perspective. The question of how different perspectives affect the assessment of the situation is an important one for the workweek.

3.2 Assessment framework (task 2) & information needed (task 3)

In the assessment framework information is collected on the three main subsystems discussed above: technical, physical and social (to include society, political economic, institutional). The assessment will be qualitative and based mainly on participants’ own knowledge and experience with FRM in their respective home countries, as well as existing scientific and other literature that will be made available and/or accessed on line during the workshop. The emphasis is on comparing through discussion and exchange of views, as well as reflection on the concept of resilience and on what it means to compare cases. In our experience, being exposed to another situation raises many questions: about one’s own and about the other case. Unfortunately we can only visit the Dordrecht case together, so we ask the Bangladeshi participants to come prepared with stories and pictures of daily life in Dhaka (their own and others’) as well as summary information to answer the questions below for Dhaka (Sections 3.2.1 to 3.2.3).

To be clear: we do not envisage to compile a data base with quantitative information, run GIS or other model analyses. Sometime quantitative data, for example on population density or flood frequency, will enrich the qualitative analysis.

3.2.1 Assessment of the technical FRM system

This task will inventorise whether any FRM measures are in place and how they function. To facilitate the task, FRM measures can be classified in a number of different ways. We will use the multi-level safety (MLS) classification now in use in NL (Figure 1), which is explained here:


including more links. This framework was already used in Dordrecht (Gersonius et al. 2010, Gersonius et al. 2010, van Herk et al. 2014) and we will benefit from this work during the workweek through Dr Gersonius’s input.

Figure 1 Dutch Multi-layer FRM approach

3.2.2 Assessment of the physical system

A non-exhaustive list of questions to be answered for both cases (to be reviewed):

  • what are the flood risks[1], where and what is their source?
  • how are they likely to change in the future?
  • how does land use (not) take account of these risks? is this likely to change in the future?

3.2.3 Assessment of the social system

A non-exhaustive list of questions to be answered for both cases (to be reviewed):

Society (consider different social strata incl. temporary migrants & gender for each of these questions):

  • what is people’s understanding of and attitude to flood risk?
  • do they know how to respond to flooding? have they already taken action?
  • who is affected by flood risks? which risks (source, frequency, duration)?


  • what political priority does flood risk have nationally, and in Dhaka?
  • does this translate into budget being made available?
  • for whom & what power do they have?
  • who is in fact making decisions regarding flood risk (as opposed to formally)?


  • what economic interests exist? which one(s) dominate in formal and informal decisions?
  • how much damage does (potential) flooding do to the respective interests?



  • what legal & policy texts exist regarding flood risk in Dhaka, incl. related issues such as urban planning?
  • which concrete plans are made to put these texts into practice? by whom? are they implemented? why (not)?
  • who is/are responsible for managing flood risk? are they collaborating?
  • do they have the capacity (financial & expertise) to implement their tasks? why (not)?

3.3 Resilience assessment (task 4)

The following questions will help to assess the overall system resilience of the two cases:

  • Resilience of what?
  • Resilience to what?
  • Resilience at what scale?
  • Resilience for whom?
  • Resilience for what purpose?
  • Resilient at what cost?

3.4 Evaluating assumptions (task 5)

Groups will need to keep a diary to note technical or conceptual issues as well as disagreements they come across in their discussions. This will help to evaluate the assessment framework and the definition of resilience. Guiding questions are:

  • Is our definition of resilience useful/meaningful for both cases, if not how should it be changed, maybe to be different in each case?
  • Is the outcome of the resilience assessment meaningful considering your overall impression and knowledge of the systems? If not, where does this discrepancy come from?
  • Should the assessment framework be changed to be more meaningful, maybe differently in each case? If so how?
  • It is truly possible to compare cases, or are we comparing ‘apples’ with ‘pears’?

3.5 Reporting & presentation

Please prepare a 15 min presentation that discusses the following questions:

  1. how do you assess the resilience of the two cities?
  2. what did you learn about resilience?
  3. what did you learn about comparison?

4 References

  • Folke C (2016) Resilience (Republished). Ecology and Society 21(4):44.
  • Gersonius B, Veerbeek W, Subhan A, Stone K, Zevenbergen C (2010) Toward a More Flood Resilient Urban Environment: The Dutch Multi-level Safety Approach to Flood Risk Management. In: K. Otto-Zimmermann (ed.), Resilient Cities: Cities and Adaptation to Climate Change. Proceedings of the Global Forum 2010, Local Sustainability 1 273-282
  • Gersonius B, Ashley R, Zevenbergen C (2012) The identity approach for assessing socio-technical resilience to climate change: example of flood risk management for the Island of Dordrecht Natural Hazards and Earth System Science 12 2139–2146
  • van Herk S, Zevenbergen C, Gersonius B, Waals H, Kelder E (2014) Process design and management for integrated flood risk management: exploring the multi-layer safety approach for Dordrecht, The Netherlands. Journal of Water and Climate Change 5(1) 100-115
  • Wesselink A, Warner J, Abu Syed S, Chan F, Duc Tran D, Huq H, Huthoff F, Le Thuy N, Pinter N, Van Staveren M, Wester P, Zegwaard A (2015) Trends in flood risk management in deltas around the world: are we going ‘soft’? International Journal of Water Governance 3(4) 25-46


[1] we are using the common speech definition of risk = chance (as opposed to the scientific definition risk – chance times damage)

UWD Hydro-social Deltas project Exchange workshop

UWD Hydro-social Deltas project Exchange workshop

“Lessons for flood risk management from resilience framing in the Netherlands and Bangladesh” was an innovative workweek workshop conducted in the Netherlands under a WOTRO funded project from February 10-18, 2018. Nine young professionals from Bangladesh (junior staff of NGOs and universities) and nine advanced BSc and MSc students from the Netherlands participated in this creative and highly interactive project. From the DeltaCap project member (BCAS & WUR-POD, IWM) 3 young professionals also participate in the workshop. The aim of the group work is to find differences and similarities in resilience in the domain of water management in The Netherlands (NL) and Bangladesh (BD), and to formulate recommendations from this comparison on how we can continue to live in these locations in the longer term (100-500 years).

The ‘Hydro-Social Delta’ project is one of NWO’s projects from the ‘Urbanizing Deltas of the World’ program. They address the question of how municipalities and water boards can ‘land’ the concept of ‘resilience’ of a city – for example, after a flood – in reality. NWO has opted for the exchange project for Dordrecht because Dordrecht is leading the way in innovative thinking and doing in the field of water management. The second question is: can we apply the lessons from one situation to a situation elsewhere in the world? The aim of the project is also to teach students to ask critical questions, so that they dare to question assumptions and have the flexibility to possibly revise their own starting points. Participants were split into 3 groups with mixed disciplinary backgrounds and mixed nationalities. Each group work through the given questions on the Definition of flood resilience and assessment framework independently, in an iterative way. The assessment framework consists of the technical FRM system, physical system, social system (society, political, economic and institutional). Based on the field trip observation (excursion tour of Dordrecht & surrounding area on FRM approaches, Biesbosch museum Werkendam polder Noordwaard, Delta works), discussion with community people of Dordtrect city and sharing flood experience of Dhaka city, Bangladesh each group prepared presentation of their own work for the closure event on Friday 16 February PM.

Bangladesh Ambassador was present during the final presentation and was pleased to see deeper thinking and creative search for common grounds between our two countries and innovative solutions for areas where differences are hard to bridge. Deputy Mayor of Dordrecht and other academics from Wageningen UR, IHE Delft and others were present as panellists.

Professor Anna Wesselink was the moderator of the event and supervisor of this innovative project.

Developing capacity to manage floods in Bangladesh

The recent monsoon-driven floods in south Asia severely impact food security of Bangladesh. Early arrival of this year’s flash floods in the northeast and monsoon floods in the northwest destroyed the harvest of the majority of the rice-paddy fields of the country, depriving Bangladesh of nearly 1/6thof its total rice production. Furthermore, dike breaches and overtopping of rivers in the vast river delta of Bangladesh caused flooding of many towns and villages and caused extensive damage to Bangladesh’s infrastructure such as roads and bridges. Nevertheless, given the severity of the floods, the impacts in terms of fatalities were significantly smaller than those from similar floods decades ago. This suggests that the preparedness of Bangladeshi’s to floods has increased.

Professor Chris Zevenbergen, William Veerbeek and dr. Assela Pathirana from the Flood Resilience chair group are currently involved in projects in Bangladesh to accelerating this trend towards lower flood impacts. They do this by introducing and implementing innovate yet locally adapted flood proofing technologies in the NWO-funded CORE Bangladesh project. They are also involved in an initiative spearheaded by dr. Aby Syed of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies to upscale flood resilient housing in villages in Rangpur of Bangladesh which have been destroyed by the recent floods (see pictures). On a more strategic level, they empower all water-related agencies to adopt Bangladesh’s new long term water policy: the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100. In the NICHE-funded project DeltaCAP, a “train-the-trainers” program on adaptive delta management is developed which should be disseminated to water professionals all over Bangladesh. Projects like these should further prepare Bangladesh for the many water challenges in the future.

Picture 1: Teesta flood water washed away a portion of the road infrastructure in Dinajpur and the surrounding homes. (photo by The Daily Ittefaq, August 13, 2017)

Picture 2: A flood resilient house in Char Haibat in Rangpur which has not been effected by the recent flash flood. (photo taken by Chris Zevenbergen on September 22, 2017)

Workshop on Information Services for Farmers in Peri-Urban Khulna

Workshop on Information Services for Farmers in Peri-Urban Khulna

The ‘Workshop on Information Services for Participatory Water Management’ in Peri-Urban Khulna was jointly organized by the DeltaCAP (www.deltacapproject.net) and WaterApps (www.waterapps.net) projects from 27-29th November, 2017. The venue of the workshop was CSS AVA centre and Khulna University. In the 2nd day of the workshop there was a field visit in 2 areas of Rupsha and Batiaghata Upazila of Khulna.  

Information services, such as weather forecasts or forecasts of water levels, can help farmers and other water users to manage water resources and take farm decisions.

The workshop aims to understand:

  1. How can we develop information services that matter to people?
  2. Is training on participatory development and use of water and climate information a capacity you want to develop in your organisation?

The workshop has a dual objective:

  • With farmers and agriculture officers: What are information needs? Progress towards the participatory development of climate services and capacity in Botiaghata and Rupsha sub-district.
  • With service providers (water & climate data and extension): how can we develop information services that matter to people? Is training on participatory development and / or use of climate services a capacity you want to develop in your organisation?

The workshop was conducted as learning-by-doing approach by engaging potential service providers and service receivers, to co-develop these services. The approach of the work has a challenge of providing hydro-climatic information services to farmers and water managers in peri-urban Khulna. Examples of such information are weather forecasts, seasonal forecasts, and forecasts of water levels and salinity in support of on-farm decisions. By starting from this example, the outcome of this workshop is to 1) assess the interest of information service providers, such DAE, BMD, BWDB, LGED, research institutes and NGOs, to provide these information services to their partners and constituents, and 2) build capacity with these organisation to do so if desired. The choice to focus on hydro-climatic information services will be evaluated after one year, after which other services can be proposed.


For more details please contact- Saskia Werners  ; Uthpal Kumar 

Information Services for Sustainable Delta Management – Participants speak!

Information Services for Sustainable Delta Management – Participants speak!

Knowledge Portal will be useful for making plan for different project in my organization if it is free to access for future

a participant

Exercise session is the most useful to me because through this stage i can understand easily what
i learned from lecture.

This training is a practical training focusing on the application of Information Services for Sustainable Delta Management. Workshop participants acquired insights into the Knowledge Portal, the Touch Table and the use of information services for scenario planning.

Background information was supplemented by demonstrations, hands-on exercises and group discussions. A focus of the course is to gain practical experiences in the application of information services and to enable participants to use these services in their specific field of application. Use cases of how information services support sustainable delta management in Bangladesh were presented and discussed.

The use of the Knowledge Portal and the Touch Table proved to be particularly useful to support planners and decision makers in problem analysis, strategy-making or monitoring steps. Questions on how to prepare, realize and maintain the use of the Knowledge Portal and the Touch Table were addressed.

learning goals

At the end of the workshop, participants will be able to:

  1.  set up a new project in the Touch Table, load maps from the Knowledge Portal and use tools in order to sketch objects, measure the size of objects, define buffer zones and define the scale and the extent of maps
  2. apply two features of the Touch Table:
    –          the feature service to do real time analysis on the touch table with pre-configured map layers
    –          the photo map to combine maps with texts and images
  3.  upload map layers to the geoserver
  4. identify important aspects to consider in a real application of information services with regard to the preparation, the realization and maintenance
  5. know how information services can be used in order to support scenario planning

Participant feedback

The course was received well by participants. Following are some selected graphs from the participant feedback.

Information Services for Sustainable Delta Management - End of course evaluation