Crack in the ice. Photo: Waterworlds

Project period: 2009-2014

The ambition of the research project was to study local, social responses to environmental disasters related to water, as spurred by the melting of ice in the Arctic and in mountainous glacier areas, the rising of seas that flood islands and coastal communities across the globe, and the drying of lands accelerating desertification in large parts of Africa and elsewhere. The aim was to contribute to a renewed theory of social resilience that builded on the actualities of social life in distinct localities, thus focussing on human agency as the basis for people's quest for certainty in exposed environments.




Risks related to climate change are unevenly distributed. The global climate change therefore results in new patterns of regional migration, political unrest, economic vulnerability, shifting resource bases, and a profound sense of risk affecting everyday life in many parts of the world. The aim of the research project was to explore how people deal with such uncertainty. Through detailed anthropological studies of distinct localities and strategies of protection, the project seeked to enhance the general understanding of living in an environment at risk. This was urgent in the interest of understanding how far the social capacity for adaptation may be stretched in times of pending environmental disaster. It was also pertinent with respect to basic issues of local food security that may all too easily transform into problems of international security. In the process have identified thresholds of flexibility.

For the project to enable a meaningful comparison of how people dealt with disaster, the cases chosen were all related directly to environmental issues and were of the same scale:

The melting ice in the Arctic and in glacier-covered mountains elsewhere threatens age-old ways of living and moving within the landscape;
The rising seas, potentially flooding islands and coastal communities, and correlated with an intensified cyclone activity;
The drying lands in already arid regions entail hunger, displacement of people and political instability that transform global disaster to local humanitarian catastrophe.

Read more about the three cases here








Waterworlds resulted in merely 300 publications, two conference, a PhD course held in Greenland, various presentations, seminars and workshops, an expedtion to Himalaya and an exhibition at the National Museum of Denmark.

View a list of selected publications

View the full publication list

View the final ERC-report about the Waterworlds project here (pdf-format)






The project was funded by:

ERC logoWaterworlds was funded by the European Research Council

Project: Natural Environmental Disasters and Social Resilience in Anthropological Perspective (Waterworlds)

Project Investigator: Kirsten Hastrup

Start: January 2009
Slut: June 2014