Perilously close to sea level and vulnerable to floods, erosion, and cyclones, Bangladesh is one of the top recipients of development aid earmarked for climate change adaptation. Yet to what extent do adaptation projects address local needs and concerns? Combining environmental history and ethnographic fieldwork with development professionals, rural farmers, and landless women, Camelia Dewan critiques development narratives of Bangladesh as a “climate change victim” in her recently published book Misreading the Bengal Delta: Climate Change, Development and Livelihoods in Coastal Bangladesh. This monograph examines how development actors repackage colonial-era modernizing projects, which have caused severe environmental effects, as climate-adaptation solutions. Seawalls meant to mitigate against cyclones and rising sea levels instead silt up waterways and induce drainage-related flooding. Other adaptation projects, from saline aquaculture to high-yield agriculture, threaten soil fertility, biodiversity, and livelihoods. Bangladesh’s environmental crisis goes beyond climate change, extending to coastal vulnerabilities that are entwined with underemployment, debt, and the lack of universal healthcare.
In this book talk, Dewan analyzes how development actors create flawed causal narratives linking their interventions in the environment and society of the Global South to climate change. Ultimately, such misreadings risk exacerbating climatic threats and structural inequalities.
Dr. Camelia Dewan is an environmental anthropologist focusing on the anthropology of development. She holds a PhD in Social Anthropology and Environment from the University of London (SOAS/Birkbeck). As a postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of Social Anthropology in the University of Oslo (2018-2023), she examined the socio-environmental effects of shipbreaking in Bangladesh. She is the author of Misreading the Bengal Delta: Climate Change, Development and Livelihoods in Coastal Bangladesh and the co-editor of two special issues: “Fluid Dispossessions: Contested Waters in Capitalist Natures” (Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology) and “Scaled Ethnographies of Toxic Flows” (Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space). Dr. Dewan will be an Associate Senior Lecturer in Cultural Anthropology at Uppsala University from 2024.