Doomed to Drown? Infrastructure Governance and Environmental Justice in Bangladesh


Like other river deltas worldwide, human living space is a valuable commodity in Bangladesh, particularly along river channels where flooding redistributes land that forms the foundation of villages and farms. Rapid sea-level rise is salinizing low-lying cropland while dam building and irrigation in river basins imprint downstream delta communities by reducing freshwater flows.

Together, these collectively threaten water and food security. Intertwined with these environmental issues are a deeply embedded cultural identity, a wide chasm in living standards, and other socio- economic pressures associated with development. Bangladesh is a place beyond others where social and environmental concerns converge, thus providing a dynamic, complex and globally significant case study for a transdisciplinary-focused curriculum. 

This case study includes progressive learning modules designed to introduce students to systems thinking using infrastructure governance in the Bengal Delta, Bangladesh. The case study would fit well within a curriculum for upper-division Environmental Engineering or Environmental Studies undergraduates or graduate students and is aimed at training students in a transdisciplinary approach of complex problem identification and analysis.

Each module is designed to be flexible, so that it may be applied to other densely populated coastal landscapes where physical dynamics and climate change are rapidly shifting land-water boundaries, creating new socio-environmental risks and impacts.

The independent modules are designed to introduce students to basic principles of systems thinking and socio-ecological systems by identifying the relationships, interdependencies, and feedbacks between the various elements of delta SES. They will then integrate their training through system-thinking based exercises such as causal loop diagramming (CLD) and a role-playing game. Through the modules students will explore feedbacks and emergent properties arising from agricultural land transformation related to large-scale infrastructure development in coastal Bangladesh, and the associated hydrological, geomorphological, social, and economic impacts.

Kimberly G. Rogers
Udita Sanga
Annelise DeJong Hagedorn
Jacob Hagedorn
Kelly Pearce