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Uncertainty from below

Devastation wrought by Cyclone Aila in the Sundarbans | Photo: IIHMR-STEPS CentreHow do people deal with uncertainty about climate, disease or natural disasters like floods? This project aims to bring together people who study uncertainty with the perspectives of those who experience it.

Social and natural scientists, modellers, and other experts have developed sophisticated theories of ecological uncertainty. But theories, models and diagrams from “above” may have little to do with the way how everyday men and women (poor or rich, urban or rural especially in the global South) live with, understand and cope with uncertainty.

Photo: A mother with her children in front of their devastated home in the Sundarbans after Cyclone Aila | IIHMR-STEPS Centre.
View an album of photos from this project on the STEPS Centre’s Flickr site

Uncertainty project Uncertainty project Uncertainty project








  • Sundarbans: the Sundarbans, a network of islands in the Bay of Bengal, is particularly at risk from rising sea levels. We will explore how different people see climate-related challenges and resilience – residents of the Sundarbans, informal health workers, and workers in NGOs. We will also examine the tension between short term coping mechanisms and longer term adaptation – both in terms of health system development and livelihood strategies, including out-migration.
  • Urban India: this part of the research will examine the relationships between different kinds of uncertainties in particular domains (eg natural disasters, water, energy, waste, housing). We will critically examine the relationship between mitigation and adaptation strategies at the level of cities and towns. We will look at the similarities and differences between the dominant pathways for dealing with climate change, and emerging forms of resilience on the ground. This will help to develop alternative pathways for cities in the context of climate change.
  • Kutch: Kutch is a dryland area in western India known for scarcity and ecological uncertainty. We will explore how official policies and debates on climate change contrast with local practices and knowledge, in the context of major changes that are shaping the region and Gujarat more generally.

Through these areas, and engagement with scientists in India and elsewhere, we will encourage natural scientists to engage more with social science and the perspectives of people who experience ecological uncertainty.

Digital story: After the storm

This article tells the story of how people are responding to the after-effects of tropical cyclone Aila, which caused devastation in the Sundarbans region in 2009.

After the Storm (

Project update March 2014

Project briefing

Uncertainty briefing coverFind out more about our project in this new,
easy-to-read briefing:

Climate change and uncertainty  (pdf 300kb)


“The Uncertainty project is working to bridge the gap in the perceptions of those who theorise about climate change and uncertainty from above’, those who experience it from ‘below’, as well as those in the ‘middle’ who act as intermediaries between the two.”


STEPS members working on this project:

Project partners:


We welcome media queries about this project:
India contact: Shibaji Bose | Phone: +91-96740-87140 | Email:
UK contact: Nathan Oxley | Phone: +44 (0)1273 915826 | Email: