Global Challenges Academy

Living Deltas

UKRI GCRF Living Deltas Hub

  • Goal 1: No poverty
  • Goal 2: Zero Hunger
  • Goal 3: Good Health & Well Being
  • Goal 5: Gender Equality
  • Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
  • Region: South and Southeast Asia

Deltas occupy only 1% of the global land area but are home to more than half a billion people. Over time, many deltas have become dynamic social-ecological systems (SESs), often playing a pivotal role in national economies. The mega-deltas located in South and Southeast Asia, including the Red River Delta, Mekong Delta in Vietnam, and the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna system in Bangladesh and India are among the most vulnerable in the world.

Human impacts exacerbated by climate change are pushing these deltas ever closer to a number of ‘tipping points’. The tension between human resource use and the desire for development increasingly threatens the livelihoods of those in the region. It poses a highly complex development challenge: how to maintain South and Southeast Asian deltas as functioning SESs in the face of continued human exploitation and environmental degradation.

How we are meeting this challenge

The Living Deltas Research Hub, funded for five years (2019-2024) aims to understand changes to these deltas caused by a range of threats and drivers. These include sea level rise and saline intrusion; loss of biodiversity; mangrove forest degradation and loss of coastal buffer zones; climate change, especially monsoons and incidences of damaging cyclones; population growth; changes in land use, community health and well-being; unsustainable technical interventions.

With an international team of over 120 members from over 20 academic institutions we are working in partnership with delta communities to co-produce new understandings of behaviour and response to rising risks and threats to delta SESs. Our aim is to seek sustainable solutions, address the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda more specifically in deltas, and raise resilience and adaptive capacity in delta populations vulnerable to global change and delta degradation over time. Here we highlight just some of the many ways in which we are responding to the challenge. You can find out more about our work from our Water (b)Log.

  • We are creating new monitoring of deltas when none existed before to produce new baselines of delta water quality and new understanding of delta evolution over time. An intended outcome is a Living Deltas Index, an innovative and accessible assessment tool for the health status of delta ecosystems.
  • We are developing frameworks for localising the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) in delta-specific contexts, and new ways of monitoring the SDGs based on their natural and cultural heritage values as well as their other contexts.
  • We are creating a comprehensive risk assessment framework for delta (SESs) that will allow us to identify and fill any knowledge gaps in the area of social equity analysis at the delta level. Furthermore, this system will help accumulate the data needed to effectively monitor the systems over time.
  • Through developing delta-level interventions to respond to, and mitigate against, foreseeable coastal system tipping points, we are charactering tipping-point thresholds and identifies risks and opportunities for coastal areas.
  • Our team is working with delta communities to gain insight into the intricate connections between people's heritage, their current lives, and the impact of human activities and environmental change on delta regions.

Our aim is to actively address four key questions: (1) how are Asian mega-deltas changing, and what are possible causes and consequences? (2) how do we use local knowledge and local cultural heritage to underpin a better future for deltas? (3) how can delta communities’ capacity and adaptability be enhanced to ensure the SDG message that ‘no one is left behind’? and (4) how can infrastructure, inequality, and resilience issues be addressed to encourage more sustainable delta futures?

SDGs focus for the Living Deltas Hub.

Who will benefit

With the aim of transforming policy and practice based on new approaches to understanding delta change, our research will benefit those living in South and Southeast Asian delta regions, specifically women and youth groups; local, regional and national government; community organisations; NGOs; and SME businesses.

Our team

Full details of our team are available here.

Key contact

Professor Andy Large

Further information

Living Deltas UKRI GCRF Hub