A paper that I participated as its corresponding co-author has been just accepted for publication by Ecology & Society. As you may know, Ecology & Society is an interdisciplinary journal that focuses on resilience thinking and social-ecological systems. It is the official journal of Resilience Alliance.
This paper used historical analysis to understand evolving robustness-fragility tradeoffs of a partly-engineered coastal social-ecological system.
This paper has been led by Asif Ishtiaque, a PhD student at the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, Arizona State University. The title and abstract of the paper are given below.
Robust-yet-fragile nature of partly-engineered social-ecological systems: A case of coastal Bangladesh
Asif Ishtiaque1, David J. Yu2, 3, 4, Nikhil Sangwan2
1School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, Arizona State University, United States
2Lyles School of Civil Engineering, Purdue University, United States
3Department of Political Science, Purdue University, United States
4Center for the Environment, Purdue University, United States
ABSTRACT. Modern social-ecological systems are often partly-engineered to enhance the robustness (or reduce the variance) of human welfare to environmental fluctuations over a foreseeable time horizon. Recent studies show, however, that subtle trade-offs are usually inherent in such efforts of enhancing short-term robustness. Managing variance on short time scales is likely to be associated with the buildup of hidden fragilities on longer time scales. Using a flood-prone social-ecological system (SES) of coastal Bangladesh as an example, this paper investigates some of the ways in which such robustness-fragility tradeoffs can manifest. This SES has been extensively modified in the last few decades through the construction of large-scale flood protection structures (polders) and the introduction of commercial shrimp farming to enhance the robustness of food production to hydrological variability. Our case study analysis of the long-term changes in the SES shows that, although the modifications helped with stability in short time scales, the resulting changes also induced unforeseen problems such as infrastructure maintenance issues, land degradation and sinking, and exposure to market volatility. This paper therefore contributes to better understanding of the notion of robustness-fragility tradeoffs by illustrating an exemplary case of the phenomenon in the engineered coastal environment context.
Key Words: robustness; robustness-fragility trade-offs; social-ecological systems; coastal resilience; coastal vulnerability; embankments; polder; cyclone; flooding; storm; saline water intrusion; land subsidence; infrastructure; socio-hydrology.