Deltas in the Picture: a Debate on the Sustainable Development of Deltas

Introduction by Cees van de Guchte1, Wim van Driel1 and George de Gooijer2

1) Delta Alliance, Deltares/Alterra, the Netherlands, 2) Global Water Partnership, Stockholm, Sweden

Pressures and Challenges in Deltas
Low lying river delta areas are lively centers of this world: more then half of the world population lives in coastal areas, one out of six of those persons lives in a delta. 16 out of 20 of the world’s mega cities are located in deltas. Rapid urbanisation continues, impacting natural dynamics and biodiversity, changing land use patterns, and resulting in increasing demands for water, food and energy. Meanwhile, resources and infrastructure provided are incentives for economic growth, job creation, innovation, development.

Deltas are prone to variations in climate and the possible impacts of climate change. They are vulnerable for floods from sea level rise, fluvial flooding from intense rainfall, heavy storms, while other regions may suffer from water scarcity and drought. Both the frequency and intensity of such events may increase under envisioned climate change scenarios. Both prevention, spatial planning and also disaster management and risk reduction strategies are key for sustainable delta development.

Subsidence and salinisation
Natural, but man-enhanced processes like subsidence, contribute to the vulnerability of deltas. The intrusion of salt water may increase under climate change impacts, and may hamper drinking water supply services and traditional food production practices. These processes provide huge challenges for innovative approaches, and doing things differently.

The above issues call for integrated frameworks for decision making, at the same time leaving room for sector wise targeted approaches towards sustainable delta development. Furthering the resilience of deltas should be at the heart of such frameworks, adequate governance, sound economic instruments and innovative financing providing the enabling environment for that.

Food for thought
Various documents describe the intrinsic characteristics of deltas, and call for a delta approach that builds upon the good principles of ecosystem based management, integrated water resources management and integrated coastal zone management. The Delta Alliance published a report assessing the vulnerability and resilience of 10 deltas worldwide. At the World Water Forum in Istanbul, the World Water Council presented a perspective paper on deltas with respect to water and climate change adaptation (pdf), and the scientific community calls for an International Year of Deltas.     
Other relevant documents:

  • Marchand, M. Dam, R. and Bucx, T. (eds) (2011). Towards a Mekong Delta Plan. Synthesis of Water Sector Assessment.  Viet Nam - Netherlands Cooperation. Deltares, Delft, The Netherlands (pdf).
  • Foufoula-Georgiou, E., Syvitski, J., Paola, C., Thai Hoanh, C., Tuong, P., Vörösmarty, C., Kremer, H., Brondizio, E., Saito, Y. and Twilley, R. (2011). Forum: International Year of Deltas 2013: A Proposal. EOS, Transactions American Geophysical Union, Vol. 92, No. 40, Page 340 (pdf).
  • Bucx, T., Marchand, M., Makaske, B., van de Guchte, C. (2010). Comparative assessment of the vulnerability and resilience of 10 deltas- synthesis report. Delta Alliance report number 1. Delta Alliance International, Delft-Wageningen, The Netherlands (pdf).
  • Vörösmarty, C.J., Syvitski, J., Day, J., de Sherbinn A., Giosan, L. and Paola, C. (2009). Battling to save the world's river deltas - The fragility of the world's deltas is not solely a consequence of rising ocean waters. Human fresh water use is a predominant force behind receding coastlines. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists / (pdf).
  • Syvitski, J.P.M., Kettner, A.J., Overeem, I., Hutton, E.W.H., Hannon, M.T., Brakenridge, G.R., Day, J., Vörösmarty, C., Saito, Y., Giosan, L. and Nicholls, R.J. (2009). Sinking deltas due to human activities - Progress article. Nature Geoscience 2, 681-686 (pdf).
  • Van der Most, H., Marchand, M., Bucx, T., Nauta, T., van Staveren, M. (2009). Towards sustainable development of deltas, estuaries and coastal zones. Description of eight selected deltas. Deltares, Delft, The Netherlands (pdf).
  • Van der Most, H., Marchand, M., Bucx, T., Nauta, T. and van Staveren, M. (2009). Towards sustainable development of deltas, estuaries and coastal zones. Trends and responses: executive summary. Deltares, Delft, The Netherlands (pdf).
  • Van der Most (ed.) (2009). Perspectives on water and climate change adaptation: Adaptation to climate change - Another challenge in the sustainable development of deltas, Deltares, Delft, The Netherlands (pdf).

      Debate on Deltas
      The Global Water Partnership and the Delta Alliance invite you to contribute through sharing your expertise and experiences on delta relevant issues, seeking a common view on how best to address them in the framework of Integrated Water Resources Management.
      The results of the present electronic discussion will be presented and further elaborated on during the GWP Consultative Stakeholders Meeting and the Stockholm International Water Week 2012, on August 26th and 29th, respectively.

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