Kimberley Thomas

Of dirges and deluges: Instrument-effects of development in Bangladesh

Long described as the “largest poorest” country, Bangladesh has been a prime target for massive infusions of foreign donor aid since its establishment in 1971. Through historical and ethnographic investigation, Thomas documents how flood control and agricultural intensification projects underwritten by foreign governments and multilateral development banks exacerbate socioecological vulnerability to water crises in Bangladesh. This process entails physical modification of river channels, as well as institutional transformations that diminish peasant access to land and water for food production. In effect, these ostensibly pro-poor water governance and economic development programs engender cycles of crop loss, groundwater and soil salinization, diminished fisheries, and impeded navigation that are superficially indistinguishable from the effects of unilateral water withdrawals in India (to which flood and drought crises are often attributed). Thomas argues that these international development programs, while purporting to facilitate climate change adaptation in Bangladesh, in fact perpetuate both the conditions and rationale for continued flows of aid dollars into the country.

Kimberley Thomas is a dissertator in the Department of Geography at Rutgers University where she examines the politics of transboundary water governance in South Asia. Her work combines theories and methods from political ecology, environmental history and critical geopolitics to understand the linkages between international development, environmental
governance, and human vulnerability to environmental change. Her current project entails a combined analysis of the 1996 Ganges Water Sharing Treaty and water management and aquaculture development projects implemented in Southwestern Bangladesh since 1958.