Skip to main content

River-Cities Nexus: Positioning Ecological, Social, and Cultural Resilience

Global Conclave: Advancing Human Development in the Global South Session.

The Thematic Panel titled, ‘River-Cities Nexus: Positioning Ecological, Social, and Cultural Resilience’ was organised during Global Conclave 2024 by Institute for Human Development (IHD), New Delhi and Department of Public Policy, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Bengaluru during January 12, 2024 in New Delhi, India. The Global Conclave, titled, Advancing Human Development in the Global South, 11-13 January, 2024, was an academic congregation of more than 500 people who participated from India and abroad with 30 plus panels, 7plus plenary sessions, roundtables, technical sessions.

The Co-Chair, Shri G. Asok Kumar, the Director General of the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), an Integrated Conservation Mission, a flagship programme of Government of India, presented a comprehensive overview of the efforts and achievements in cleaning and rejuvenating the Ganga River. He described the mission as a formidable challenge, given the river's 2500 km stretch, numerous tributaries, and the vast population living along its banks. Shri Kumar highlighted the cultural, ecological, and social significance of the Ganga, revered for millennia by religious traditions. While highlighting the unique and multifaceted approach of NMCG, combining regulatory authority with community involvement to achieve its goals, he detailed the interventions undertaken by NMCG and emphasized the importance of community engagement in the mission, mentioning initiatives like Ganga Aarti ( ceremonial worship of the Ganga river every evening) standardization, yoga sessions, and local markets (the initiative titled, ‘Ghat par Haat’, literally meaning markets on the River Pier) to strengthen the river-people connection.

Several overarching themes and commonalities emerged underscoring a shared commitment to addressing the complex challenges at the intersection of ecological, social, and cultural resilience in the presentations at the panel.

The presentations uniformly stress the importance of resilience thinking in mitigating ecosystem crises. Rather than pursuing stable optimal production and short-term economic gains, they urge a focus on achieving flexibility and adaptive capacities. Anuradha Sen Mookerjee presented through her case study of the rejuvenation Yamuna in Delhi the necessity of the ecosocial lens, while all papers urged the centrality of 'social-ecological resilience,' highlighting the interconnectedness of human and environmental systems, wherein humans and the environment are inseparably linked through mutual services and disservices.

A consistent concern across the presentations was the impact of human activities on river ecosystems. Issues such as pollution, disruption of traditional riverbank dynamics, and the displacement of communities emerge as recurring themes, reflecting a shared recognition of the challenges faced by riverine environments.

Collaboration and stakeholder involvement form a common thread throughout the session. Whether through the formation of a riverine council, collaborative efforts involving various stakeholders, or a multi-stakeholder model for river rejuvenation, the presentations emphasize the importance of collective action and inclusive decision-making.

Urban resilience is a key aspect explored in the session, with a focus on understanding the dynamics between rivers and urban areas. The impact of urban development on river ecosystems, challenges faced by riverine communities due to urbanization, and the need for localized climate resilience practices in urban and rural settings are recurring themes.

However, amidst these similarities, each abstract brings a unique geographical and contextual focus to the discussion. From the Yamuna River in Delhi to the Xingu River in Brazil, the Muntok River in Indonesia, and river communities in Southeast Asian urban and rural regions, the papers provide a global perspective on river-city relationships.

Furthermore, each presentation delves into specific challenges and proposes context-specific solutions. Whether it's addressing pollution and ecosystem restoration in the Yamuna, the impact of a dam on riverine women in the Xingu, or the socio-cultural action plan for the Mentok River, they offer nuanced insights into the complexities of the river-cities nexus.

Methodological approaches varied across the presentations encompassing historical reviews, academic debates, conceptual frameworks, and participatory approaches. Trinh Duc Tran’s study applied the DPSIR framework, while Harini Santhanam presented the concept of 'social readiness,' showcasing a diversity of scholarly approaches.

Temporal aspects also differ, with papers covering distinct time periods, reflecting on river dynamics and human interventions over the years. While the Recovery of River Yamuna reviewed the period from 1993-2023, Kemas Ridwan’s presentation on Mentok's conceptual roadmap traces historical developments and proposes contemporary solutions.

Moreover, the diversity of author backgrounds added richness to the panel, including scholars, doctoral students, research fellows, and professors. This varied expertise contributes to a multifaceted exploration of the river-cities nexus, bringing diverse perspectives to the forefront.

The Chair, Professor Bishwapriya Sanyal, Ford International Professor of Urban Development and Planning at MIT, USA, emphasized the importance of understanding river cities in the context of their unique geographical and environmental characteristics. He expressed admiration for the detailed knowledge and case studies presented but raised concerns about the gap between planning and implementation in urban development projects. He concluded by questioning the notion of prerequisites in planning, suggesting that what is often seen as a prerequisite might actually be an outcome of the planning process. He encouraged a more dynamic approach to planning, emphasizing the need for social engagement and readiness as part of the implementation.

In conclusion, the panel was demonstrative of a comprehensive exploration of the river-cities nexus in the Global South. The conclave, through this Panel, provided a platform for a holistic understanding of the complexities surrounding ecological, social, and cultural resilience in river ecosystems, simultaneously embracing shared principles and acknowledging diverse approaches in addressing these challenges.

Thematic Panel: River-Cities Nexus: Positioning Ecological, Social, and Cultural Resilience.

Organisers: Institute for Human Development (IHD), New Delhi and Department of Public Policy, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Bengaluru.

Chair: Bishwapriya Sanyal, Ford International Professor of Urban Development and Planning and Director of the Special Program in Urban and Regional Studies, Hubert Humphrey Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA


Panelist: Anuradha Sen Mookerjee, Sr. Fellow, Institute for Human Development (IHD), New Delhi
Title: Recovery of River Yamuna in Delhi: Deepening Urban Resilience with a Ecosocial Systems Community Approach

Panelist: Satya Maia Patchineelam, Ph.D Scholar, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Co-coordinator and Principal Investigator River Cities Network (RCN), and International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), Leiden University, The Netherlands
Title: Flowing Against the Current: Unravelling the Struggles and Triumphs of Riverine Women in the Xingu River

Panelists: Trinh Duc Tran, Acting Research Fellow Coordinator, College of Business and Law, Research Cluster on Sustainable Development, RMIT University, Vietnam
Title: Localizing climate resilience practices for river communities in Southeast Asian urban and rural region

Panelist: Kemas Ridwan Kurniawan, Professor, Department of Architecture, Faculty of Engineering, Universitas Indonesia; Wiwi Tjiook, Landscape Architect, Urban Planning Department, Rotterdam Municipality, The Netherlands; Yuni Prihayati, Lecturer, Universitas Pancasila; Researcher, Center for Regional Analysis Planning and Development, IPB University and Chief of Cultural Landscape Community (KALBU), Indonesia; Dani Soedjalmo, Board Member, Mekarsari Fruit Garden, Cileungsi, West Java, Indonesia
Title: A Conceptual Roadmap for Socio-Cultural Action Plan: Changing from Illegal Tin Miners to River Care Community with the Case of Tin Town of Mentok in Bangka Island, Indonesia 

Panelist: Harini Santhanam. Associate Professor and Head, Department of Public Policy (DPP), Manipal Academy of Higher Education Bangalore
Title: Social Readiness Assessment for Planning Policies for River Resources Management


LTR: Lira Lazaro, Satya Maia Patchineelam, Trinh Duc Tran, Anuradha Sen Mookerjee, Bishwapriya Sanyal, Kemas Ridwan Kurniawan, Harini Santhanam, ...