Misreading the Bengal Delta
Climate Change, Development, and Livelihoods in Coastal Bangladesh
- PUBLISHED: December 2021
- SUBJECT LISTING: Anthropology, Asian Studies / South Asia, Environmental Studies
- BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 240 Pages, 6 x 9 in, 12 b&w illus., 2 maps, 2 tables
- SERIES: Culture, Place, and Nature
- ISBN: 9780295749617
Open access edition: DOI 10.6069/9780295749624
Perilously close to sea level and vulnerable to floods, erosion, and cyclones, Bangladesh is one of the top recipients of development aid earmarked for climate change adaptation. Yet, to what extent do adaptation projects address local needs and concerns? Combining environmental history and ethnographic fieldwork with development professionals, rural farmers, and landless women, Misreading the Bengal Delta critiques development narratives of Bangladesh as a “climate change victim.” It examines how development actors repackage colonial-era modernizing projects, which have caused severe environmental effects, as climate-adaptation solutions. Seawalls meant to mitigate against cyclones and rising sea levels instead silt up waterways and induce drainage-related flooding. Other adaptation projects, from saline aquaculture to high-yield agriculture, threaten soil fertility, biodiversity, and livelihoods. Bangladesh’s environmental crisis goes beyond climate change, extending to coastal vulnerabilities that are entwined with underemployment, debt, and the lack of universal healthcare.
This timely book analyzes how development actors create flawed causal narratives linking their interventions in the environment and society of the Global South to climate change. Ultimately, such misreadings risk exacerbating climatic threats and structural inequalities.
Misreading the Bengal Delta is available in an open access edition through the Sustainable History Monograph Pilot, thanks to the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Authors & Contributors
Camelia Dewan is postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Oslo.
Finding echoes across the global South, Dewan’s brilliant, urgent book shows us what we miss when we treat climate change as a problem in isolation. Based on deep ethnographic research, this work of rigorous analysis and great moral clarity demonstrates that climate change is among a cluster of ecological and livelihood risks faced by the most vulnerable communities.- Sunil Amrith, Yale University
This magisterial work shows how the problems of coastal Bangladesh go far beyond the “climate reductive translations” that currently dominate policy readings, and reveals far murkier waters shaped by a political ecology of extraction that they obscure.- James Fairhead, University of Sussex
Dewan explores, through meticulous and well-written ethnography, how the idea of climate change shapes the direction of development projects and interventions.- Annu Jalais, National University of Singapore
An important contribution to an emerging critical literature on climate change in Bangladesh and beyond.- Jason Cons, University of Texas