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Grounded and global: Water infrastructure development and policymaking in the Ayeyarwady Delta, Myanmar

Benoit Ivars
University of Köln, Germany; benoit.ivars@uni-koeln.de

Jean-Philippe Venot
UMR G-EAU, IRD, Univ Montpellier, France; and Royal University of Agriculture, Phnom Penh, Cambodia; jean-philippe.venot@ird.fr

ABSTRACT: Seen as hotspots of vulnerability in the face of external pressures such as sea level rise, upstream water development, and extreme weather events but also of in situ dynamics such as increasing water use by local residents and demographic growth, deltas are high on the international science and development agenda. What emerges in the literature is the image of a 'global delta' that lends itself to global research and policy initiatives and their critique. We use the concept of 'boundary object' to critically reflect on the emergence of this global delta. We analyse the global delta in terms of its underpinning discourses, narratives, and knowledge generation dynamics, and through examining the politics of delta-oriented development and aid interventions. We elaborate this analytical argument on the basis of a 150-year historical analysis of water infrastructure development and policymaking in the Ayeyarwady Delta, paying specific attention to recent attempts at developing an Integrated Ayeyarwady Delta Strategy (IADS) and the role that the development of this strategy has played in the 'making' of the Ayeyarwady Delta as a global delta. This lays the groundwork for a broader critique of recent efforts to promote a 'Dutch Delta Approach' internationally, which we contend not only contributes to, but also aims at, making this global delta a boundary object. Such efforts play a key role in structuring an ever-expanding actor network supporting delta research and (sustainable/integrated) development. However, the making of a boundary object such as the global delta also hinges on depoliticising (delta) development. This, we consider to be problematic notably in the context of Myanmar where land and water politics have strongly shaped the changes the Ayeyarwady Delta has and will continue to witness.

KEYWORDS: Boundary object, actor network, knowledge production, discourse, Ayeyarwady Delta, Myanmar