PhD RESEARCH: Yangtze River, China and Loire River, France

Yixin Cao

Interdisciplinary Research Center of Cities, Territories, Environment and Society, University of Tours, France

Supervisor: Prof. Dr Karl Matthias Wantzen

This research explores how a fragmented river management structure hinders comprehensive river revitalization and whether recent projects and new approaches applied in these regions (e.g. transdisciplinary approaches to river landscape conservation and the Sponge City program) can redefine people’s connection to rivers. Through the comprehensive analysis of several case studies, this research project aims to synthesize feasible approaches to improve Urban Human River Encounter Spaces (UHRES) in different urban settings and contribute to a co-management scheme. The UHRES approach, based on the principles of “River Culture”, conceptualizes social-ecological systems in human-river relations without promoting human domination.

PhD RESEARCH: 44 rivers in the South Indian state, Kerala, India

Alvin Manuel Vazhayil

Interdisciplinary Research Center of Cities, Territories, Environment and Society, University of Tours, France

Supervisor: Prof. Dr Karl Matthias Wantzen

In the global context of hydrosystem restoration, the available hydraulic and ecological engineering techniques are relatively well known. However, ‘social engineering’, i.e. finding ways to match the goals of citizens’ or NGO initiatives with government policies, remains a major bottleneck for restoration projects. This PhD research aims to identify a holistic eco-social approach to river restoration in the Global South. To this end, it explores the participatory initiative to regenerate 44 rivers and adjacent streams in the southern state of Kerala, India (part of the “Now let me flow” campaign) in cooperation with the local government. The thesis hypothesizes that the role dynamics between local governments and local communities can contribute to improved outcomes based on the principles of “River Culture”. The study will determine the roles played by these two actors and whether it has contributed to improving the human-river relationship. The results will be utilized to develop a guide for collaborative river management projects in the Global South.

PhD RESEARCH: Lakes Bretonnieres, Bergeonnerie and Peupleraies – Tours, France / Donghu Lake, Wuhan, China

Chaozhong Tan

Interdisciplinary Research Center of Cities, Territories, Environment and Society, University of Tours, France

Supervisor: Prof. Dr Karl Matthias Wantzen

Urban lakes can support high biodiversity and provide critical ecosystem services. This research focuses on urban lakes, which are classified as a type of ‘urban stagnant water’ (USWs), and their ecological and social aspects. It aims to identify the drivers of macroinvertebrate diversity in urban lakes and explore how the public perceives naturalness in such areas. The study of three urban lakes in Tours, France (Lakes Bretonnieres, Bergeonnerie, and Peupleraies), and one in Wuhan (Lake Donghu), China, provides evidence to contribute to the sustainable management of urban lakes that can simultaneously enhance aquatic biodiversity and improve the provision of ecosystem services. To that end, this research analyses how USWs can be strategically integrated into urban planning, designed, and maintained from an interdisciplinary vantage point in order to tackle the environmental and social challenges related to urban lakes. To support this study, an extensive review of the past and current status of USWs is undertaken to further our understanding of the ecological, social, and engineering aspects of USWs management.

PhD RESEARCH: Kinshasa, N’djili and Congo River, Congo

Raita Bala

Interdisciplinary Research Center of Cities, Territories, Environment, and Society / University of Tours,  France

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Karl Matthias Wantzen

Kinshasa is the 3rd most populated city in Africa; it is located on the bank of the Congo River and has many urban rivers and a diversity of cultures linked to riverscapes. In the last 50 years, the city has witnessed exponential population growth and uncontrolled urban expansion. Due to the hydrography of the city, a large proportion of the population lives near an urban river, which has been affected by high levels of pollution from different sources and unplanned land occupation. For that matter, it is essential to study how the city has developed, in the past 50 years, environmental protection actions and its river culture. In order to understand how a fast-developed city like Kinshasa can regenerate its riverscape, this research analyses the current situation and investigates the applicability of the ‘River Culture’ concept in the local urban planning. Fundamental to this approach is to research how to learn from local cultural diversity and how this knowledge can contribute to mitigating the deterioration of the local riverscape.

MASTER’S RESEARCH: Magdalena River, Ciénaga de Zapatosa, Colombia

Ilaria Carbellotti

Wageningen University, Netherlands & Fundación ALMA, Colombia

Supervisory team: Bibiana Abadia Duarte, Juan Carlos Gutiérrez Camargo

Ciénaga de Zapatosa is the largest continental marsh in Colombia. It derives from the Magdalena river basin and it’s largely supplied by the Magdalena and Cesar rivers. Located in a depression between two departments, Magdalena and Cesar, it accounts for 5 municipalities (Tamalameque, El Banco, Chiriguaná, Curumaní, and Chimichagua). In Chimichagua is located the two fieldwork sites involved in this research: Sempegua and La Mata. It has an average extension of 40.000 hectares, and it’s populated by fishing communities which amount to 150.000 inhabitants. Artisanal fishing, livestock raising, and game hunting are the main livelihood activities. Farming, instead, is limited to the dry season, when waters recede, and plots of land become available for cultivation.

Especially in the Magdalena catchment, wetlands are highly degraded by human activities, and so are the multitude of ecosystem services they deliver (Mitsch and Gosselink 2000; Ricuarte et a., 2017). Intensive cattle ranching, monocropping, mining, urban development, and construction of dikes led to wetland drainage, deforestation, extreme floods, land loss, drastic reduction of catches, and water contamination (Viloria J., 2008). This, in turn, had direct repercussions on the fishing communities living on the riverbanks of the Zapatosa, affecting their subsistence activities and resources. They suffer from food insecurity, poverty, and diseases due to poor sanitation and polluted water (Fundación ALMA, n.d.).

References:

Fundación ALMA – Por la naturaleza y la vida. (n.d.). https://www.fundacionalma.org

Mitsch W. J. & Gosselink J. G. (2000). The value of wetlands: importance of scale and landscape setting. Ecol Econ 35:25–33

Ricaurte, L. F., Olaya-Rodríguez, M. H., Cepeda-Valencia, J., Lara, D., Arroyave-Suárez, J., Finlayson, C. M., & Palomo, I. (2017). Future impacts of drivers of change on wetland ecosystem services in Colombia. Global Environmental Change, 44, 158-169.

Viloria, J. (2008). Economía extractiva y pobreza en la ciénaga de Zapatosa. ÍA DE LAS CIéNAGAS DEL CARIBE COLOM, 54.

This research aims to investigate several aspects that could improve food security and economic stability in the fishing communities of Sempegua and La mata, in the Ciénaga de Zapatosa area of Colombia. Thereby it intends to contribute to both the need to diversify the diet of the local community and to introduce crops that can be processed and stored for the wet season, when the community relies solely on fishing.  Based on principles of agroecology, and an action research (AR) approach aimed at the co-creation of knowledge with the local community, this research will focus on studying ways to (1) introduce new endemic crops in the vegetable gardens; (2) identify and implement methods to preserve the local harvest; and (3) develop a tool to harvest uva de lata (corozo).

MASTER’S RESEARCH: Río Nagsiche, Ecuador

Meike Klarenbeek

Wageningen University, The Netherlands

Supervisory team: Rutgerd Boelens, Juan Pablo Hidalgo Bastidas.

Following the National Water Law, both national and regional governments in Ecuador have set out to distribute water rights in a fixed liters/second allocation. Yet, in a country that is characterised by highly seasonal rainfall and flow patterns, this practice is increasingly seen to result in an overallocation of existing water resources. In the Nagsiche river basin, this overallocation presents periods of water scarcity, during which a myriad of actors scramble for access to water. While most of the water users have a formal right to extract water from the river, the opportunities to materialise these water rights are drying up. The institutionalised water scarcity along the Nagsiche river therefore results in tensions between the multitude of water right holders in the river’s territory and the existence of fictitious water rights, or agua de papel – water rights that exist on paper but do not result in actual water access in practice. The situation in the Nagsiche river basin reveals how power asymmetries between different water users open up a new realm of environmental injustices in Ecuador, where access to water has become a highly politicised subject.

This research aims to unravel the realities of water users that depend on the flow of the Nagsiche river in Ecuador. It aims to uncover the power dynamics that are encapsulated in the rules and regulations that determine water access along this river, and how both explicit and subtle rules of inclusion and exclusion influence the opportunities of various water users to materialise their water rights. Involving the water users along the Nagsiche river basin, the research aims to reproduce the stories of what it means for various actors to defend their water access and control in a waterscape that is filled with an increasingly wide variety of actors with highly divergent interests. The focus is specifically on the conflictive realities that are generated by the inconsistency in the opportunities for different actors to materialise their on-paper-rights, and how affected water users in the Nagsiche river basin would envision a more just waterscape.

MASTER’S RESEARCH: El Río Monjas, Quito, Ecuador

Mariska Bouterse 

Master student, Cultural Anthropology Sustainable Citizenship – Utrecht University

Supervisor: Dr. Hayal Akarsu (Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Utrecht University)

The belief that Nature should receive rights has been growing around the globe; being perceived to be a solution to Anthropos catastrophic activities, which are negatively affecting all other forms of life on the planet and beyond. However, research on the effects of such legal changes is lacking. In 2008, Ecuador has granted Rights to Nature. However, El Río San Pedro, one of the most important rivers running through the country’s capital, Quito, all the way to the Pacific, is one of the examples which experiences high levels of contamination. Thereby, negatively impacting all human and non-human life surrounding the river while increased urbanization is expected to further worsen the situation. Public concern over the river’s pollution have led to actions being taken for possible recovery processes of the river while contamination practices are ongoing. The roles of the various actors involved in these processes, such as neighbours of the rivers, the municipality, parish governments, citizen groups, peri-urban farmers and industries. There are several uses, and ways of valuing and relating to the river that are at stake and mediated by power relations that should begin to be explored.

Situated within the Rights of Nature framework, this research will focus on how power dynamics influence the lived experiences of citizens living next to the highly contaminated river, El Río San Pedro in Ecuador. This will be done through ethnographic research within the Anthropology of Water by combining the political ecology and political ontology lenses.

This study will investigate how the Rights of Nature are perceived and used by the different stakeholders involved, and what these rights do in practice; how El Río San Pedro is shaped and used as a subject. And what social, political, economic effects and conflicts arise from these rights. It will look at the different human-river relations by exploring the different cosmologies and ontologies of the actors involved; how, and as what the different actors relate to El Río San Pedro; besides, how social relations between the actors are shaped through the river. As the intensity of recovery processes varies per region, the last focus will be on the people living in the area which lacks protection and on a daily basis have to live in the ruins of environmental pollution. Therewith will be explored how this affects their thoughts, beliefs and actions which shape their hydrosocial lifeworlds.

Warna River, India

The Warna River is a 150 km long tributary of the Krishna river in peninsular India. The minor ethnic and traditional communities share cultural, spiritual, social, and economic relationships with the natural resources shaped by the river. These communities were displaced twice, first for the establishment of the Chandoli National Park (biodiversity) and second for the Warna dam to provide water to the flourishing agriculture and sugarcane industrial belt located in the middle and lower reaches. The displaced communities (about 32 villages) were not fairly compensated by the state and many people had to migrate to cities and downstream locations for better livelihood options. Some of them joined the locally established social movement, Krantiveer Babuji Patankar Lok Shastriya va Prabhodhan Sanstha (KBPLSP) to gain fair compensatory rights. Through the local social movement, the displaced persons received land for subsistence farming, and they were also able to form water user associations in the area. The lower part of the basin is a progressive agriculture and sugarcane industrial belt, where most of the displaced communities have migrated and work as agriculture laborers. In the Warna basin, the tentacles of neoliberal modes of governance have replaced the traditional knowledge and changed the intricate relationship of the communities with the riverscapes, challenging their identities. The ethnic communities in the upper part of the Warna basin shared cultural and spiritual relationships with the forests and the rivers which were reflected in their daily practices to conserve them as commons. This research looks into the historical development in the basin and explores the different power and political regimes which have shaped the current river governing practices.

PhD researcher: Sarita Bhagat

Humans and the more-than/non-human entities like the river, materials, and multi-variant species constantly interact creating and maintaining multiple realities. Framing rivers within the relational dynamics construct new meanings, values, norms, and knowledges in the physical, social, institutional, cultural, and political spaces which define ‘hydrosocial territories’. Powerful and dominant actors, often transcending national jurisdictions, create social norms and local rules, which to a varying degree lead to marginalization and loss of voice of other groups of actors, with less power, including the non-human entity. In this process of epistemic violence and silencing, important knowledges, meanings and information can be lost which are important to manage and govern rivers. This research will unravel these emergent relational dynamics in the context of the Warna watershed in India, to make space for other epistemologies animated by social justice, dynamics around social movements and river imaginaries to create and co-govern the Warna river commons, safeguarding rights of nature that go beyond the current legal frameworks in India. The overall research focuses on concepts emerging from political ecology, mainly focusing on notions of power relations and governmentality and actor-network theory. A qualitative research approach will be applied, with empirical and experiential field evidence to support my research, which includes creative and transformative learning methods to collect data.

Magdalena River – Ciénegas of the bajo-Magdalena, Colombia

The Ciénagas of the bajo-Magdalena form a dynamic swamp ecosystem with a mix of water from the Cauca and Magdalena rivers. The area is considered an important ecosystem and water buffer during extreme hydrological events. Moreover, the area is seen as vulnerable to climatic variability in the context of climate change and La Niña/El Niño episodes. Throughout the region, several adaptation projects have been implemented and shared as success stories of nature-based adaptation. These projects vary from social-cohesion projects to infrastructural projects. The development of hydrological models, together with participatory activities have informed the implementation of adaptation measures, both through grassroots initiatives and governmental support. Current debates on the future of the river and marshlands include ideas around the navigability of the river, ecosystem services of the river, fish-friendly rivers, and reforestation initiatives.

PhD researcher: Lotte de Jong

Climate change adaptation has influenced river management through an anticipatory governance paradigm. As such, futures and the power of knowing the future have become increasingly influential in water management. Yet, multiple future imaginaries co-exist, where some are more dominant than others. In this PhD research, the focus is on deconstructing the future-making process in climate change adaptation by asking “what future-making tools and practices in the context of climate change adaptation influence river infrastructure for the Meuse and Magdalena rivers?”. Firstly, this investigation explores existing river imaginaries of diverse epistemic communities in both case studies. Secondly, it explores how imaginaries are materialized in tools and practices for climate change adaptation. It herein focuses on numerical models and participatory practices. Thirdly, this research explores how dominant imaginaries are contested and mobilized in climate change adaptation. The power of future-making is approached through a combination of Foucault and Butler’s conceptualization of power. Imaginaries are approached through a science and technology lens in combination with hydrosocial territories, and the imaginary holders are approached through the concept of epistemic communities. A focus on empirical research methods will guide theoretical findings. Finally, a reflection on researcher’s own positionality in action-research will be presented – which will be an iterative process of learning and unlearning while navigating between the natural and social sciences.

Meuse River – Border-Meuse river section, The Netherlands

The Border-Meuse (Dutch: Grensmaas) section of the river Meuse forms the border between Belgium and The Netherlands. The Meuse enters The Netherlands below Maastricht and is named the ‘Grensmaas’ between the Borgharen dam and the Linne dam. In between, the river is free-flowing and considered natural. This section of the Meuse is not used for navigation and has seen substantial changes through the last decade through the implementation of the Grensmaas project. The Grensmaas project has nearly been implemented and is one of the success stories of climate change adaptation through nature-based solutions in The Netherlands. The riverbed has been widened through gravel extraction and nature can develop in the floodplains to increase water safety. Multiple ideas on how the ideal future river should look have been developed, which are shaped and reshaped by participatory and modeling practices. The materialized end-product is the result of negotiating these ideas. Current debates on the future of the river include ideas around the rights of nature/rivers, fish-friendly rivers, climate adaptation, and river quality initiatives.

PhD researcher: Lotte de Jong

Climate change adaptation has influenced river management through an anticipatory governance paradigm. As such, futures and the power of knowing the future have become increasingly influential in water management. Yet, multiple future imaginaries co-exist, where some are more dominant than others. In this PhD research, the focus is on deconstructing the future-making process in climate change adaptation by asking “what future-making tools and practices in the context of climate change adaptation influence river infrastructure for the Meuse and Magdalena rivers?”. Firstly, this investigation explores existing river imaginaries of diverse epistemic communities in both case studies. Secondly, it explores how imaginaries are materialized in tools and practices for climate change adaptation. It herein focuses on numerical models and participatory practices. Thirdly, this research explores how dominant imaginaries are contested and mobilized in climate change adaptation. The power of future-making is approached through a combination of Foucault and Butler’s conceptualization of power. Imaginaries are approached through a science and technology lens in combination with hydrosocial territories, and the imaginary holders are approached through the concept of epistemic communities. A focus on empirical research methods will guide theoretical findings. Finally, a reflection on the researcher’s own positionality in action-research will be presented – which will be an iterative process of learning and unlearning while navigating between the natural and social sciences.