Introduction during the monsoon. The major rivers in the


The haor basin is a remote and difficult area that is flooded every year during monsoon. The climate of the area is subtropical monsoonal with an average annual rainfall of approximately 4,000 mm. Over 80% of the rain falls during the monsoon season from June to October. Temperatures normally vary between 26 and 31 °C in the pre-monsoon period (March to May), 28 to 31 °C in the rainy season and 26 to 27 °C in winter (Bennett, Scott, Karim and Others; 1995).

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Some of the most extensive seasonally flooded areas in South Asia are situated in bowl-shaped depressions known as haors located between the natural levees of rivers subject to overflow during the monsoon. The major rivers in the area are Surma and Kushiyara. Some of the tributaries are: Manu, Khowai, Jadukhata, Piyain, Mogra, Mahadao and Kangsha(Alam and Hossain; 2007). These form the dense drainage network of the haors. The rivers are primarily responsible for providing inputs – rainwater and sediment load to the basin. The hilly rivers coming down from the Khasi and Jaintia hills in Meghalaya carry particularly high volumes of water as they come from some of the rainiest places in the world (Bandopadhyay; 2002: 78).

During July to November due to flood these areas go under deep water and look like seas with erosive water surface. During wind storm these waves reach up to 1.5 m in height. It remains under water for seven months of the year, turning haor settlements mostly built on earthen mounds into islands. During the dry season most of the water drains out, leaving small shallow lakes or may completely dry out by the end of dry season. This exposes rich alluvial soil, extensively cultivated for rice.

The fight against natural calamity of the locals people, mostly day laborers, relies on traditional and indigenous methods which with limited effect. Many villages have already been washed away, and many more are on the verge of extinction, forcing people to migrate to urban centers.


1. Goal and Purpose

The goal of this research is to understand more fully how rural, subsistence based communities cope with increased floods due to climate change variability. The purpose is to map and test to what extent social networks and leaders, as sources of facilitators of collective action, contribute to adaptive governance in flood prone communities. This research will analyze attributes of social networks, as a method to build adaptive governance, in communities that face climatic stress.  The study will compare two regions in Bangladesh. There is also a goal to share findings so that replicable adaptive and resilience actions are shared with other communities that also depend on ecosystem management for their livelihoods.


2. Background

2.1. Climate Change Impacts in Sunamgonj District, Bangladesh

One of the countries expected to suffer the worst impacts of climate change is Bangladesh. In this study, extreme flooding and dry situation is viewed here as climatic stress or climatic impact. Three factors contribute to the increased susceptibility of Bangladesh to extreme flooding: 1) heavy rainfall and snowmelt in India and Nepal, 2) an increase in rainfall in Bangladesh’s major rivers and, 3) elevated tides in the Bay of Bengal from the monsoon. These three factors were present in a 1998, causing the peak flood times of the Ganges and Brahmaputra basins to overlap. This was the worst flood disaster in South Asia, and it inundated close to 100,000 km2 of land in Bangladesh. More than 30 million people in Bangladesh were displaced, with 20 million rendered homeless.


There was another extreme flood in 2004 in Bangladesh, caused by severe monsoon rains and overflowing rivers. The unusually early and heavy monsoons caused widespread devastation claiming hundreds of lives, damaging or completely destroying thousands of houses, livestock, crops, farmlands, roads, bridges, embankments and buildings in rural areas. Sixty percent of the country was submerged. The extent of flooding in 2004 caused more widespread damage than previous major floods in 1988 and 1998, and in total 45 Districts (out of total 64) across Bangladesh were severely flooded, affecting an estimated 4-5 million people.


The Sunamgonj district in northern Bangladesh, where this study is based, experienced some of the worst flooding in the country.


In 2004, the whole Sunamgonj district was completely inundated for several weeks due to severe flood during late-June until mid-August. The early monsoon flood caused significant damages to assets and properties of the majority of households and physical infrastructure in Sunamgonj. Flood and draught has become the common features since last two decades. Furthermore, majority number of people of this area depends on only agro-based earning.


2.2. Descriptive Definitions

Social Networks and Leadership

Floods are viewed here as a time of rapid change or stress. Social networks (either informal or formal) can be culled during times of stress to innovate outside of bureaucratic structures (Folk, et al. 2005). Informal networks have been noted as the key precursor to successful adaptive actions in the transformation of ecological systems.  These networks assist in the flow of information, in the identification of knowledge gaps, and in the appointment of key organizational and management structures within communities. Networks are also expressed as social capital, where social or familial networks lead to social trust that helps to facilitate coordination and cooperation in society. In some cases, community networks are successfully linked to state and local governing bodies while in others, official governing bodies become a hindrance to the management of resources.  “Social networks serve as the webs that tie together the adaptive governance system.”


Collaboration in networks requires leadership. Floods create opportunities for leadership. Leadership is also needed to change or provide innovation to manage flexible decisions while under stress. Leaders often have the skills to manage existing knowledge within functioning social networks, and to use it in a useful manner.  Leaders also often help to build trust within groups.


A resilient society not only often manages crises, or change effectively, but it also can turn the crisis into an opportunity that helps a community to move towards a more long term “desired state”.  Adaptive governance is viewed here as the ability of a group to create conditions and rules (through social networks such as flood management committees) for collective actions in order to manage and cope during flood times.


Local communities, especially those that depend on natural resources to meet livelihood needs, have years of experience with change and stresses, and thus have utilized numerous mechanisms to adapt to change over time. However, attempts to understand these mechanisms and to categorize them for learning have been few.


3. Research Questions and Hypotheses

The main research question is; how do social networks contribute to the ability of groups to adapt to climate change impacts?  The networks are analyzed to understand how they contribute to social resilience during flood times and afterwards.


This research hypothesizes that within the two case study areas;

Social and familial networks play a decisive role in promoting resilience.
Due to bridging organizations (such as local NGOs), and key leaders, there are differences in network functioning, leadership and resilience between the two cases.
Local NGOs serve as important bridging organizations to local governing institutions, but are not vital to building resilience in the communities.
There is a key individual in both areas that serves as a leader on a regular basis, as well as during times of flood. These persons are not the government appointed leader, but someone else.
Social memory, especially from elders, is critical for the social networks to function and to create integrated responses to climatic change.






3.1. More Detailed Questions

Through detailed questionnaires, this study will gain answers to, and map the answers to the following thematic questions.


Social Networks/ Familiar Networks/Shadow Networks

·         Is there a network in place?

·         Is it based in the societal level?

·         In the family level?

·         How was it developed?

·         How are people linked within the network? What roles do they play within the network (facilitators, innovators, followers, sharers, etc.)?

·         Is it in the shadow or background, or is it linked to local and state structures?

·         Is it directly linked to an NGO or NGO leader? How?

·         Is it linked to the titular head of the village, or someone else not appointed? 

·         Is the network in place all the time, or spurred only at the time of flood/stress?

·         Is the network mobilized only to address the impending flood?  (If mobilized quickly, how is trust built and collective action organized?)


Leaders/Key Individuals

·         Who are the leaders in the community?

·         What is their role?

·         How do they communicate decisions within the community members?

·         Are they the same leaders as those in the societal or familial network?

·         How is trust built? Through what channels?

·         How is conflict addressed, managed and solved?

·         How does their role interact with other governing agencies?

·         What attribute (s) of the leader generates action to cope with the flood (e.g., communication of strategies, creation of windows of opportunity, linkages to key individuals in other sectors, motivator, forge new alliances, mobilize social memory)?


Social Capital

·         Is there a common understanding of the threat/consequences of floods?

·         If yes, what is it? If no, what are the differing attitudes? How does this affect group action at times of flood? Is this linked to assets or land ownership?

·         Do the members act together during times of flood?

·         Do they have rules in place to address conflicts? How are conflicts solved?


4. Research Methods

4.1. Comparative Case Studies

This research will take place in two village level communities in Northern Bangladesh, in the Sunamgonj District.  Both villages have been severely affected by recent floods, thus the environmental stress is comparable.  However, the functioning of societal response (the social networks) and societal resilience is expected to be different and is still unknown.  (There is an assumption being made here that social resilience makes adaptive governance and management during floods possible.)


(The selected cases are: (1) the Tukerghat village under Gourarong Union of Sadadr Upazila and (2) the Anonotopur village under Fathapur union of Bishwemberpur Upazila, both highly susceptible to flooding and severely affected by the 2004 flood. In the two case-study areas, community flood management committees had been established in the aftermath of the 1998 flood, affecting them both in very serious ways. Based on the voluntary effort of community members and volunteers, people organized and prepared for a division of labour in times of severe environmental stress, which proved to be very effective in promoting resilience during the 2004 flood. The activities included collecting information on rise and recession of water on a regular basis (mainly using cellular phones to communicate with the nearest water information collection centres), relocating marooned people to shelters, flood shelter management, health care, distribution of portable water and livestock management. )


There appears to be differences in the level of success of all the initiatives launched by the community flood management committees, particularly those needing coordinated action, such as relocation of marooned people, and the coordination between weather-bulletin information and identification of suitable flood shelters, resulting in inundation of some of the shelters.


4.2 Process Tracing, Interviews

This comparative study will use a qualitative method to obtain primary empirical data, supplemented by official statistics and other secondary sources. In-depth, though semi-structured interviews with local governmental representatives, national governmental bodies, the community flood management committees, and individuals, household members, will serve as the basis of the data. Two sites will be visited   are planned, with stays five months.


Building on prior research conducted on social-ecological systems, this research will test for three interacting factors (outlined below) that are required for coping during flood times and that are needed to build resilience over time in these villages. It is suggested here that these factors must be robust for the social network to function effectively. Results will be presented in a mapping framework (or process-tracing framework) that depicts the characteristics of the social networks in the studied areas.


Social Network Factors

Adaptive capacity: Learning to live with the unknown (that floods will come and change the present state) and accepting that knowledge is needed to adapt to new environmental state.
Leadership: That key individuals are needed to facilitate action and coordination.
Social Memory: Learning and sources of resilience are shared and treasured (through leaders and key individuals) for reuse and renewal for the next flood. Social networks draw on social memory to assist in the information flow and in collaboration among households.