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Engineering a season of floods – Bath Spa University

Engineering a season of floods – colonial and postcolonial politics of embankments in North Bihar, India

Wednesday 4 November, 2020 – Wednesday 4 November, 2020
12:00 PM – 2:00 PM


Part of the Hazard, Risk and Disaster (HRD) Research Seminar Series 2020-21.

In the postcolonial world, ideas and understanding of how to manage water continues to be shaped by techno-bureaucratic approaches which draws its lineage from colonial engineering practice.

This lecture reflects on how dams and embankments in India, as flood control technologies, legitimised by colonial and postcolonial technopolitics, have emerged as a self augmenting technology. In spite of their repeated failure, the dominant policy narrative continues to favour more of the same – top down and hard engineering approaches – ignoring increasing evidence that such technologies have contributed to converting monsoons into a season of floods, especially in North Bihar.

Amitangshu Acharya refers to research on environmental and agrarian history in North Bihar, to trace the emergence of dams and embankments in a fluid landscape, and their entanglement with the materiality of transboundary Himalayan rivers, politics of land and agriculture, technoscience, and local knowledge systems. He argues that, in order to frame appropriate responses to a serious climate crisis which is amplifying floods in North Bihar, we need to engage with decolonising current flood management approaches. This requires creating space for more deliberative, pluralistic and decentralised approaches, which are appreciative and accommodative of subaltern knowledge systems.

About the speaker

Amitangshu Acharya is a researcher, writer and journalist. He has worked on water policy and management in South and Southeast Asia, and specifically India, for the last 15 years. He co-conceptualised and implemented the Participatory Groundwater Management (PGWM) approach at Arghyam - India’s first hydrophilanthropic foundation - which is now the largest civil society-based groundwater management network in India. He later worked at Akvo, an international non-profit, as Programme Manager – Asia, where he worked on using smartphones to monitor water quality and water and sanitation infrastructure in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Nepal & Vanuatu. His earlier research on local knowledge and flood forecasting was cited and discussed in the IPCC, Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC), 2019.

He contributes ground report and Op-Eds to outlets such as The Economist, The Independent, The Huffington Post, Khaleej Times, Indian Express and The Hindu, to name a few. He is currently a Leverhulme Trust PhD scholar at the University of Edinburgh, UK, where he is exploring how ‘small’ water technologies shape urban water consumption in India. He is the recipient of The Centenary Research Fund, School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh, 2018; The International Journal of Urban and Regional Research Foundation Writing-Up Grants; 2019, and the Resident Doctorate Student Writing-Up Fellowship, at the Konrad Lorenz Institute, Austria, 2020.

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