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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 aimed to compare and contrast the views of 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.

This project was funded under the ESRC STEPS Centre from 2011-2016, and has now turned into the Norwegian Research Council-funded project Uncertainty, Climate Change and Transformation.

Read a 2016 briefing on the project (PDF)

Photo: A mother with her children in front of their devastated home in the Sundarbans after Cyclone Aila | IIHMR-STEPS Centre.


  • Sundarbans: the Sundarbans, a network of islands in the Bay of Bengal, is particularly at risk from rising sea levels. We looked at how different people see climate-related challenges and resilience – residents of the Sundarbans, informal health workers, and workers in NGOs. We also examined 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 examined the relationships between different kinds of uncertainties in particular domains (eg natural disasters, water, energy, waste, housing) at the level of cities and towns. We looked at the similarities and differences between the dominant pathways for dealing with climate change, and emerging forms of resilience on the ground.
  • Kutch: Kutch is a dryland area in western India known for scarcity and ecological uncertainty. We explored 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.

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 (


Workshop: Climate Change and Uncertainty from Above and Below, Delhi, January 2016



View our photos from this project on Flickr


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We welcome media queries about this project:
India contact: Shibaji Bose | Phone: +91-96740-87140 | Email: