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South Asia is considered to be particularly vulnerable to the impacts of anthropogenic climate change. The reasons for that fall into two broad categories. On one hand, the region is extremely diverse. Its hugely varied geomorphologic formations, ecosystems, and economies render the region susceptible to a range of adverse climate change impacts (Field et al., 2014; Stocker et al., 2014). At the same time, the region houses socially extremely vulnerable populations. Notwithstanding substantial growth rates, the region houses the world’s second largest group of extremely poor persons on the globe (World Bank, 2016: 37–39). It is a matter of profound concern that South Asia’s poor are predominantly dependent on natural resources for their day-to-day survival and that they occupy the most hazardous spaces, such as flood plains, arid areas, and coastlines. In concomitance with a range of further structural conditions, such as class, caste, and gender, these conditions render large swathes of South Asia’s poor unusually and especially vulnerable to weather-related hazards of all kinds.
This chapter sheds shed light on the governance of climate change impacts on South Asia’s coasts. it analyzes how hazards that emanate from warming and rising seas are managed. Drawing on the traditions of qualitative social sciences, the chapter accounts for relevant policy instruments from above and from below. That is, it offers an analysis based in the critical examination of policy documents and ethnographic evidence gathered during long-term original research on the subcontinent. The analysis is operating in the mode of “document view” and “field view,” to adapt M. N. Srinivas’s classic terminology (Srinivas, 1966). In order to follow through with this dual approach, the chapter concentrates on one region – the Bengal delta, comprising almost all of Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal. This was chosen because this region has become iconic for climate change vulnerabilities and impacts, both within South Asia and across the globe. But the region is relevant for the purpose of this volume not only as an icon or an arbitrarily selected case study.
The way climate change is unfolding and being encountered in the Bengal delta has something to say for coastal South Asia at large. Social vulnerabilities demonstrated by coastal populations, the hazards they face, and the particular alignment of policy instruments mirror the Bengal case to a considerable degree.