Uncertainty from below

Devastation wrought by Cyclone Aila in the Sundarbans | Photo: IIHMR-STEPS Centre
A mother with her children in front of their devastated home in the Sundarbans after Cyclone Aila (Photo: IIHMR / STEPS Centre)

How 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 its findings fed into the Norwegian Research Council-funded project Uncertainty, Climate Change and Transformation. The STEPS-affiliated TAPESTRY project also builds on this work.

Briefing on the project (PDF)

Book: The Politics of Climate Change and Uncertainty in India

Edited By Lyla Mehta, Hans Nicolai Adam, Shilpi Srivastava
Published 2021

Drawing on the ‘Uncertainty from above and below’ project, this book brings together diverse perspectives concerning uncertainty and climate change in India.

It is published by Routledge in the Pathways to Sustainability series and available Open Access.

Read Open Access


  • 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 Medium.com 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 (Medium.com)


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



View our photos from this project on Flickr



Living on the Edge: Climate Change and Uncertainty in the Indian Sundarbans. Ghosh, U., Bose, S. and Brahmachari, R., 2018

Policy Briefings

Addressing Climate Change Uncertainty in Dryland Kachchh, India. Srivastava, S. and Mehta, L., 2018

Transforming Urban Governance to Manage Uncertainty and Climate Change in Mumbai, India. Hans Nicolai Adam, H.N., Parthasarathy, D., and Narayanan, N.C., 2018

Bringing Together Voices to Address Climate Change Uncertainty in the Indian Sundarbans. Ghosh, U. and Bose, S., 2018

STEPS members working on this project:

Project partners:


Contact: [email protected]


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