Tierras y Aguas

Managing the coastal land-water interface in tropical delta systems

Tropical coastal deltas represent one of the most diverse and rapidly changing biophysical regions in the developing world. These deltas are home to large population centers such as Dhaka, Yangon and Bangkok, and are significant centers of agricultural production and industrial development. Coastal deltas also contain critical ecosystems such as mangrove and seagrass, and a rich collection of historical and cultural resources. Human communities in coastal deltas are equally diverse, with the economic circumstances of the technologically-advanced urban centres contrasting sharply against the impoverished conditions that exist in many rural communities.

Historically, land and water management within many coastal deltas has focused on the exclusion of saline water flows that move upstream from the coast during the dry season. Management strategies have included the construction of embankments and sluice gates to ensure freshwater availability for agricultural production throughout the year. However, this approach fails to recognize the diversity of rural livelihoods and ecosystems in coastal deltaic areas, the environmental consequences of altering natural saline water flows, and the emergence of new activities such as shrimp farming that require brackish water, which challenge our assumptions regarding land and water management objectives at the brackish water interface in coastal deltas. The attribute of being an attractive domain for commercial development and therefore intense settlement may also be a fatal attribute for delta regions. The question that often arises "Are delta regions doomed?" can elicit a number of responses, which would in themselves describe future scenarios and required actions.

Coastal hazards are another issue that has challenged the existing land and water management paradigm in Asia's coastal deltas. There is a strong need for more in-depth knowledge about planning for coastal hazards, and how to protect coastal communities that are least able to shield themselves from these events.

To respond to these issues, the Delta 2007 conference was organized with support from the Challenge Program for Water and Food (CPWF), the FAO-Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (FAO-RAP), the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the WorldFish Center and the Burapha University, Thailand.

The objectives of this conference were to examine the state of tropical coastal deltas with a particular focus on agriculture-fisheries-aquaculture-environment conflicts and coastal hazards experienced in developing countries; exchange findings on land-water interface management practices from case studies in various countries; identify strategies and priorities for research, planning, management and governance that promote environmental sustainability and improved socio-economic conditions in marginalized rural communities; and develop collaboration opportunities for future action and research.

The conference was well attended by 100 participants from 19 countries and a total of 52 papers were presented.   The Conference Summary (click to download) provides a synopsis of the material presented at the conference and recommendations that were forthcoming as a result of discussions.

The conference was the second event in a biennial cycle of conferences initiated in 2005 in Bac Lieu, Vietnam. The next conference is expected to take place in 2009 and to focus on tropical deltas and climate change.