Institute of Geography and Sustainability of the University of Lausanne
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FluidGov - Towards a “fluid” governance: hydrosocial analysis of flood paradigms and management practices in Rhone and Ganges basins (India, France and Switzerland)

Research fields Development, societies, environments
Keywords Political ecology
Cultures of water
Environmental history
Hydro-social cycle
Funding SNF project EqUIP
Duration Mai 2019 - Juin 2023
Researchers Bussard Jonathan (Scientific collaborator) [web] [email]
Lafaye de Micheaux Flore (Scientific collaborator) [web] [email]
Metzger Alexis (Scientific collaborator) [web] [email]
Reynard Emmanuel (Principal Investigator) [web] [email]
Véron René (Principal Investigator) [web] [email]

Floods are land-use- and climate-related hazards posing important environmental, social and economic challenges. They cause physical damage, economic loss, psychological stress and human casualties. Government authorities have responded to flood hazards through flood management measures, such as the construction of embankments or the restoration of floodplains. However, physical flood-control interventions modify the spatial and temporal distribution of water flows and sedimentation often creating new sets of hazards that can lead to tensions between local communities and government authorities. As a consequence, floods, their management and underlying paradigms are linked to equity issues and they are imbued with politics.

This research seeks to explore how flood-management approaches reshape hazards, vulnerabilities and community responses – and, in turn, how these influence governance practices. To address these questions, the study applies a hydro-social analysis that emphasizes that water cycles and floods are co-determined by sociopolitical processes and physical dynamics. The hydro-social analysis is furthermore combined with environmental history to also consider long-term structural trajectories of flood governance. Thereby, the international and interdisciplinary research team can draw upon the disciplines of geography, political science, history and social anthropology.

Empirical investigations will be conducted in the Rhone floodplains (between Sion and Martigny in Switzerland and between Avignon and Arles in France) as well as in the Ganges delta (i.e. the Sundarbans south of Kolkata). These riverscapes encapsulate a rich history of floods and how these had been perceived during different historical periods, and dealt with relying on varied technologies and governance systems. Empirical research will cover both the contemporary situation and that of the early modern times (17th-19th century). Doing so, this study will contribute to the debates on flood-risk governance that have become more relevant in view of climate change. Finally, together with local stakeholders and based on the research findings from different sites and periods, the project will reflect on the potential of a more 'fluid' governance to better deal with uncertainty and complex socio-ecological processes around water flows, sediments, agricultural production and populations.

Rhône in Riddes (Valais, Switzerland)