Responding to Climate and Other Change Processes in Complex Contexts: Challenges Facing Development of Adaptive Policy Frameworks in the Ganga Basin, Technological Forecasting and Social Change

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The Ganga Basin, one of the world's most densely populated and vulnerable regions, is also among the world's most dynamic hydrological systems. Rivers exiting the Himalayas deposit massive amounts of sediment in the plains and shift their courses regularly. The natural dynamics of this system have a direct impact on populations. On August 18th, 2008, for example, embankments on the Kosi River (a tributary to the Ganges), failed and the channel shifted by as much as 120 km (Sinha, 2008) displacing over sixty thousand people in Nepal and three and a half million in India. Transport and power systems were disrupted across large areas. The embankment failure was not caused by an extreme event. Instead the breach represented a failure of interlinked physical and institutional infrastructure systems in an area characterized by complex social, political, and environmental relationships. Projected climate changes in the Ganga Basin are likely to greatly exacerbate vulnerability (Adaptation Study Team, 2008). While the Kosi breach had nothing to do with climate change, such events will increase if climatic variability, sediment transport, and extreme events increase. Understanding how populations can respond to the dynamic nature of rivers such as the Kosi is, as a result, essential to develop strategies for adapting to climatic change. Understanding is also essential at the policy level for building adaptive capacity. The challenge is to identify policy frameworks and their relationship to interlinked physical and institutional infrastructure combinations that create environments enabling adaptation within households, communities, and regions. This paper explores the challenges and opportunities facing the development of adaptive policy frameworks in the Ganga Basin. The characteristics of frameworks that are adaptive in themselves and enable adaptation along with their relationship to different types of interlinked institutional and infrastructure systems are explored. Keywords: Disaster Risk Reduction/Hazard Management; Floods, Hurricanes, Typhoons; Learning from Natural Hazards; Resilience and Climate Change Adaptation; Social Vulnerability; Systems Thinking; Water Management. Retrieve article at

Author: Marcus Moench

Citation: Moench, M. (2010). Responding to climate and other change processes in complex contexts: Challenges facing development of adaptive policy frameworks in the Ganga Basin. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 77(6), 975-986. doi: 10.1016/j.techfore.2009.11.006


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