Coastal and riverine plains are among the most densely populated landforms, where all major economic activities converge. These two major landscapes also face frequent disasters—both natural (such as storms, tsunamis, flooding, storm surge, etc.) and man-made (such as pollution, oil spills, etc.).
Despite well-intended efforts, sustainably managing such disasters remains a challenge as the world’s climate changes. This challenge is partly due to the barriers in knowledge synthesis across the physical, natural, and social sciences.
To address this disconnect and explore sustainable ways to manage coastal and river hazards, the Indo-German Centre for Sustainability (IGCS) organized a summer school in July. There, an international interdisciplinary group of over 50 participants, including students and experts from various disciplines, met to share their expertise on emerging problems in the coastal and riverine areas and to promote interdisciplinary collaborations.
The school was divided into three sectors, so that participants could gather ideas from lectures and gain empirical insight from small workshops, and finally, participants representing each working group could deliver a synthesis talk on a given subject. Lecture topics included effects from coastal hazards, water conflicts, wastewater management, climate change, tsunamis, riverine and urban flooding, and pollutants (like microplastics). Out of all of these, attendees agreed that flood disasters and the potential to affect the most people were the most important considerations.
Participants recommended that disaster planners fully utilize three approaches to mitigate or to reduce flood disasters:
- modeling and developing cyberinfrastructure, for example, generating hazard and risk maps through airborne lidar surveys, combining fluvial and pluvial floods, and mapping damage and potential risk
- developing early-warning systems based on simulated flood scenarios and the prediction of rainfall data
- adding bottom-up participatory approaches through crowdsourcing, with the help of social media
The attendees also agreed that in the long run, community planners must shift paradigms from “disaster mitigation” to “disaster reduction.” They concluded that predisaster management is more impactful than postdisaster analysis in reducing losses.
Ultimately, since 2010 IGCS has connected mostly German and Indian researchers who focus on sustainability. They plan to continue this success by organizing future summer schools to facilitate collaboration between young researchers by providing scholarships and initiating new projects to solve critical sustainability issues.
Researchers interested in the activities of IGCS are encouraged to visit its website, which also has information on the 2018 summer school. The school is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research with help from the German Academic Exchange Service.
—Soumita Banerjee, Department of Geography, Jadavpur University, India; and Sujay Bandyopadhyay ([email protected]), Department of Geography, The University of Burdwan, India