Monday, 3 November 2014

Governance of ‘long term delta planning’ in Bangladesh, Vietnam and the Netherlands

Governance of ‘long term delta planning’ in Bangladesh, Vietnam and the Netherlands
The Deltas in Times of Climate Change Conference II, taking place in September 2014, Rotterdam, presented a suitable occasion to discuss both delta challenges and interesting approaches to how ‘delta dynamics’ are being dealt with worldwide. Delta dynamics include here both environmental (including climatic) and socio-economic processes, and since relatively recent ‘long term delta planning’ is taking shape as an approach addressing these in an integrated manner. The long term delta planning projects taking shape in, amongst other deltas, Bangladesh, Vietnam (Mekong) and the Netherlands, bring up highly relevant (water) governance questions. During the conference’s ‘Bangladesh Delta Session’, centered around the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 project, two particular issues were discussed: first, how the BDP2100 works towards practical implementation of the long term vision, and second, which lessons learned in the field of institutional coordination and stakeholder participation can be drawn from delta planning in Vietnam and the Netherlands. Representatives from the three countries, all heavily involved in long term delta planning projects in their respective deltas, presented the state of affairs of the delta plan initiatives and shared their views.

Three long term delta planning cases selected
Noting that in all three countries long term delta plans have been developed earlier, in recent history, new initiatives materialized in the form of the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100, the Mekong Delta Plan and the Dutch Delta ProgrammeThese initiatives have picked up the challenge of grasping delta developments in the broadest sense, and are trying to come up with both long term delta visions and pathways towards sustainable futures.

The delta planning projects have now been on-going for a number of years, and this ‘phasing’, expressed by the number of years of experiences with long term delta planning, was an important reason to include the three deltas in the discussion. Besides this, the selection was based on the inherent dynamics in each of the deltas. Such dynamics, which include environmental processes (erosion, sedimentation, water flows and flooding, and climate variability), and socio-economic processes (urbanization, migration, rapid increase in economic activity), are materializing at different speeds in the three deltas.

Vietnam (Mekong)
The Netherlands
‘Phasing’ or number of years of experience with long term delta planning
3 years: 2012 (Feasibility study); 2013 – on-going (Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100)
5 years: 2010 – 2013 (start up and Mekong Delta Plan), 2014 focus on implementation
7 years: 2008 (Working together with Water); 2010 – 2014 (Delta Programme)
Contrasting environmental ‘delta dynamics'
Highly dynamic system, eg regular and extensive floods
Moderately dynamic system, eg regular floods
Relatively stable, eg rarely floods

Apart from those differences the Asian delta plans have in common that they are to a large extent inspired by the Dutch Delta Programme. This is demonstrated by the resemblance in terms of project objective, activities and supporting ‘tools’: the use of scenarios to outline and compare possible measures, explicit attention to uncertainty in decision-making and adaptive delta management as an overarching conceptual model. Some of these ideas are by hindsight captured in the framework of a ‘delta approach’ which was also put forward during the conference. Several renowned Dutch individuals and organizations are involved in the projects in Bangladesh and Vietnam.

Bangladesh: moving from visionary plans to reality…
With the launch of each ‘long term delta plan’ project, the question arises how to ultimately move from a visionary, attractively illustrated plan on paper, to the reality of programme financing and implementation on the ground. In the case of the Bangladesh Delta Plan, the institutional anchorage of the project lies with the same governmental institute that develops national investment plans: the Planning Commission formulates the so-called Five Year Plans. In this way, a cross-cutting institute, as opposed to a project being embedded in one particular ministry, has the ability to reach out to the numerous involved institutions, stimulate inter-ministerial collaboration, and to link long term vision development with (initially, five year) investment plans. Discussions are currently on-going between BDP2100 and the Planning Commission regarding the integration of BDP2100 activities in the 7th Five Year Plan (2016 – 2020), which will be delivered next year. This exchange pursues that recommended no-regret measures will link to investment agendas, and materialize on the ground in the form of concrete projects.

… and synchronizing with on-going initiatives
From another perspective, already existing programmes, formulated by other actors, are being implemented while the long term vision is being developed. This became particularly apparent in the reality of hydraulic interventions in the southwest delta and ‘polder region’ of Bangladesh. The coastal zone is characterized as a highly vulnerable region, due to low-lying land, the occurrence of cyclones, floods and erosion, and a high population density. At the same time it is home to the Sundarbans, the largest mangrove ecosystem in the world in connection to India, acting as a ‘coastal green belt’ reducing the impacts of cyclones. Several initiatives have targeted the southwest delta as a region for continued investments in the water and agricultural production systems at field level. Besides the BDP2100 (approaching the region as one of the ‘hotspot’ areas), the Dutch Embassy in Dhaka (the Blue Gold polder development programme) and the World Bank (the Coastal Embankment Improvement Project) have recently launched large scale water management programmes.  Different ideas about polders, delta dynamics and long term delta planning all converge here, and it remains to be seen how to synchronize these parallel initiatives.

Insights Vietnam and the Netherlands: institutional coordination and stakeholder participation
During the session, questions were raised about who ultimately ‘governs’ the delta plan – is this a collective task of a wider project community, or should a Delta Commissioner be appointed to oversee all? In the Netherlands, the position of a Delta Commissioner was designed as having no particular ministerial affiliation. This was, however, no easy choice and debated heavily from the start. In the case of the Mekong Delta Plan, a regional steering committee was installed to guide the project. It was put forward that there should be not only a Delta Commissioner that takes the Mekong Delta Plan further, but also a Red River Delta Commissioner, to pull off a simultaneous development in the Red River delta, where the Vietnamese central government is located.

Involving the broader ‘delta societies’, beyond the project consortium and partners, was brought forward as an important aspect of long term delta planning. In case of the Mekong Delta Plan, it was raised that public involvement came rather late in the process, and that more attention should go to interaction with especially the businesses community, which is growing in importance in shaping delta activities. This discussion came back in the challenging question raised by a representative of a Bangladesh NGO about ‘which percentage of BDP2100 focuses on engineering, and which percentage on social affairs’ – of course, a very difficult question to answer, but the message was clear: emphasize the need of ownership of the plan with the people well on time.

Concluding remarks
What became clear from the session is that there is a huge scope for continued intra-delta comparison and exchange of experiences, especially because long term delta planning centres around a number of similar principles, approaches and ‘tools’. Although these could themselves be the object of closer scrutiny, long term delta planners in the different countries may be confronted by questions and dilemmas that have been dealt with earlier by their colleagues. This also concerns some of the (water) governance themes as discussed above. Being aware, however, that deltas differ enormously in terms of its environmental and socio-economic dynamics, is important to avoid that a blueprint approach to long term delta planning is being followed.

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