Wesselink, Anna, Jeroen F. Warner, Md Abu Syed, Faith Chan, Dung Duc Tran, Fredrik Huthoff, Ngan Le Thuy, Nicholas Pinter, Martijn van Staveren, Philippus Wester and Arjen Zegwaard 2015. “Trends in Flood Risk Management in Deltas around the World : Are We Going ‘ Soft ’?” International Journal of Water Governance 3 (4).
Flood-risk management (FRM) is shaped by context: a society’s cultural background; physical possibilities and constraints; and the historical development of that society’s economy, political system, education, etc. Using a five-way typology of different FRM measures, we compare historical and current FRM in six delta areas: Rhine/Meuse/Scheldt (The Netherlands), Pearl River (China), Mekong (Vietnam), Ganges/Brahmaputra/Meghna (Bangladesh) Zambezi/Limpopo (Mozambique), and Mississippi (USA). We show that in many countries the emphasis is shifting from ‘hard’ engineering, such as dikes, towards non-structural ‘soft’ measures, such as planning restrictions or early warning systems, while the ‘hard’ responses are softened by a ‘building with nature’ approach. However, this is by no means a linear, unidirectional or universal development. One consistent feature of the application of ‘hard’ FRM technology to deltas is that it pushes them towards a technological ‘lock-in’ in which fewer and fewer ‘soft’ FRM alternatives are feasible. In contrast, soft FRM is typically flexible, allowing a range of future options, including future hard elements if needed and appropriate. The Dutch experience should lead to serious reflection on whether ‘hard’ FRM should be recommended when ‘soft’ FRM options are still open.