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Community resilience in locales of coastal erosion: local knowledge, culture and practice in the Upper Gulf of Thailand

 PI: Michael Buser, Centre for Sustainable Planning and Environments, UWE, Bristol. 

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Dr Michael Buser is a Senior Research Fellow at UWE, Bristol.  His research is socially-engaged, collaborative and theoretically informed. Michael’s work often involves working with artists, community and institutional partners in order to examine significant social and environmental challenges. Current projects centring on issues associated with water and climate change are underway in India (water scarcity), Thailand (coastal erosion) and Wales (coastal management). 

This project, funded through the British Academy’s Knowledge Frontiers programme, is a collaboration between academics and stakeholders in the UK and Thailand to study the impacts and adaptation measures associated with coastal erosion. Our research draws on creative and participatory arts practice to critically examine community-based disaster risk reduction including how local knowledge can be better integrated with expert and professional contexts as well as policy-makers. 

The Chao Phraya Delta and the Upper Gulf of Thailand:
Coastal deltas are extremely dynamic landforms, shaped by movements in river sedimentation and coastal processes. The Chao Phraya River basin, which covers 30% of Thailand, is heavily populated (home to over 20 million people) and made up of an extremely fragile ecosystem. Urbanisation and climate change have combined to produce a number of environmental and social problems. In particular, coastlines in the area of the mouth of the river are under severe erosion pressure.  With retreat rates of 25 metres of retreat per year in some locations, the Upper Gulf is of the most threatened ecosystems in the world. A number of villages and communities along the coast of the Upper Gulf are recognised as coastal erosion ‘hot spots’. In these places, schools and homes have been relocated inland while habitats and ecological systems have deteriorated. In response, across the Upper Gulf, coastal residents have undertaken a variety of adaptation measures including shoreline protection (e.g. stone breakwaters, bamboo revetments) to lessen the impact from waves and storms, renovation of structures to mitigate flooding, and retreat. 

Globally, coastal areas are home to approximately one third of the world’s population including some of the most impoverished communities. Environmental transformation associated with climate change and sea level rise will have a direct impact on economic activity as well as the livelihoods, cultures and wellbeing of people living in coastal areas. Moreover, Asia and the Pacific are expected to be particularly impacted by the effects of climate change via increasing monsoon rains, sea-level rise, more intense tropical cyclones and storm surges and increased riparian flooding. Dealing with the effects of these processes, including the impacts on people in vulnerable coastal locations, is a central global challenge.  Planners, policy-makers and communities must learn from one another. This includes understanding not only physical processes of environmental change, but also how these processes are managed, lived and experienced by people living in vulnerable areas. It is in these areas where we focus our attention.

Our Approach
Our research team is made of a diverse set of academics and local stakeholders in the Upper Gulf. Outreach efforts are led by Jay Koh (DFA, artist-curator, Director of iFIMA-international Forum for InterMedia Art) who is working with residents in several coastal villages. Jay’s work is supported by Loraine Leeson (Middlesex University), our project advisor and an expert in socially engaged arts practice. Our understanding of coastal processes is based on research conducted by Dr Butsawan Bidorn and Dr Anurak Sriariyawat, both from Chulalongkorn University’s Department of Water Resource Engineering and supported by the knowledge of many local residents and community leaders. The research centres on a series of workshops and arts-led participatory activities along the coast with the first of these occurring in May 2018 in Ban Khun Samut Chin.  

Several outputs are planned for this project.  This include research papers (journal articles), arts commissions; a public exhibition of arts activities, policy briefs, a web site and social media updates, and press updates.



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