Socio-hydrology, floods and the levee effect: the case of India

The largest number of people exposed to annual floods globally is in India, and the flood-related economic damage and deaths in India are rising. The major, and in most cases, the only flood mitigation policy is the construction of embankments (levees) to ‘control’ floods and ‘protect’ people and assets, a process that accelerated during the British colonial period and has continued to today. Two hypotheses will be tested in this seminar. The first is an empirical pattern whereby deaths and damage increase until a transition point is reached when deaths and damage decrease, as mitigation strategies can be afforded, analogous to a Kuznets Curve, that is tested for all-India data. The second is a result of a system dynamics analysis of the levee effect by Newell and Wasson (2002) whereby most damage and death will occur during large floods for which the community is unprepared, even though there are embankments. The second hypothesis is tested on data from the state of Assam. This research is a contribution to the emerging field of socio-hydrology.

About the speaker

Prior to joining the National University of Singapore in 2011, Professor Robert Wasson was Director of the Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, Dean of Science and Head of the Department of Geography and Human Ecology at the Australian National University, then Deputy Vice Chancellor Research and International at Charles Darwin University, Australia. He has taught and researched at Sydney University, Macquarie University, University of Auckland, Monash University, and the Australian National University. He was trained in geomorphology and his research interests are: causes of change in river catchments; environmental history; extreme hydrologic events in the tropics; cross-disciplinary methods; and the integration of science into both public and private sector policy He has done research in Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Timor Leste, Malaysia, India, Nepal, Pakistan, China, Myanmar and Thailand. He is currently a Senior Research Fellow in the Institute of Water Policy at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and is examining flood risk in relation to climate change and human vulnerability over long periods in India and Thailand, and the political economy of disaster management in India and Thailand.