International Development Planning Review

Hydrosocial practice in an urbanising floodplain: local management and dilemmas of beneficial flooding

International Development Planning Review (2020), 42, (3), 315–335.


In Southeast Asia, how flooding is named or studied is not only a matter of fact, but distinctions of flooding as ‘beneficial’ or ‘disaster’ elicit specific reactions from city management, government and residents. This is particularly true in cities across Myanmar, which have been chronically under-resourced to deal with flooding. This paper investigates the overlooked informal work of residents to manage flooding in urbanising Hpa An, a secondary city located along the Salween River. I draw on a hydrosocial approach and emphasise the practices of residents in local water management and responses to flooding. This contributes to our knowledge about flooding in Myanmar, as at present attentions have focused on large-scale, top down plans for water infrastructure in the country. I argue that close analysis of these practices in Hpa An reveals local hydrosocial relations as dynamic, locally embedded and responsive to change, but in ways that do not necessarily privilege the governance of water as development intervention or a centralised, statist endeavour. Without this knowledge of local responses and management of flooding, we are in a poor position to understand their impacts and interactions with broader changes in Myanmar and in a changing climate.

Access Token
If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here


ADB (Asian Development Bank) (2014) ‘Myanmar’s new road to prosperity’, Asian Development Bank, 3 December 2014, (accessed 10 June 2018). Google Scholar

Asia Dialogue (2013) ‘Secondary cities: frontiers of challenges and opportunities’, Asia Development Dialogue, (accessed 10 June 2018). Google Scholar

Boelens, R., Hoogesteger, J., Swyngedouw, E., Vos, J. and Wester, P. (2016) ‘Hydrosocial territories: a political ecology perspective’, Water International, 41(1), 1–14. Google Scholar

Browne, A. L. (2015) ‘Insights from the everyday: implications of reframing the governance of water supply and demand from “people” to “practice”’, Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water, 2(4), 415–24. Google Scholar

Budds, J., Linton, J. and McDonnell, R. (2014) ‘The hydrosocial cycle’, Geoforum, 57, 167–69. Google Scholar

Coates, R. and Garmany, J. (2017) ‘The ecology of citizenship: understanding vulnerability in urban Brazil’, International Development Planning Review, 39(1), 37–56. Google Scholar

Derickson, K. D. and MacKinnon, D. (2015) ‘Toward an interim politics of resourcefulness for the Anthropocene’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 105(2), 304–12. Google Scholar

Ei Ei Toe Lwin (2018) ‘NLD government to face tougher challenges in 2018’, Myanmar Times, 4 January 2018, (accessed 7 January 2019). Google Scholar

Elmhirst, R., Middleton, C. and Resurrección, B. P. (2018) ‘Migration and floods in Southeast Asia’, in C. Middleton, R. Elmhirst and S. Changtavanich (eds) Living with floods in a mobile Southeast Asia, London, Routledge, 1–21. Google Scholar

FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) (2008) Salween river basin, (accessed January 2018). Google Scholar

GoM-MoIP (Ministry of Immigration and Population, Republic of the Union of Myanmar) (2015) The 2014 Myanmar population and housing census: the union report census report, Vol. 2, Myanmar, MPHC. Google Scholar

Hoolohan, C. and Brown, A. (2018) ‘Encountering water: sensitivities and practices for moving beyond “big water” interventions’, in L. Roberts and K. Phillips (eds) Water, creativity and meaning, Abingdon, Routledge, 204–18. Google Scholar

ICEM (International Center for Environmental Management) (2010) MRC Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of hydropower on the Mekong mainstream: final report, Hanoi, ICEM. Google Scholar

International Rivers (2013) Lower Mekong dams factsheet, 28 March, (accessed 10 June 2018). Google Scholar

Ito, M. (2015) ‘Considering the implications of increased urbanisation in Myanmar’, 25 May 2015, (accessed 10 June 2018). Google Scholar

Johnston, R., McCartney, M., Liu, S., Ketelsen, T., Taylker, L., Vinh, M.K., Ko Ko Gyi, M., Aung Khin, T. and Ma Ma Gyi, K. (2017) ‘State of knowledge: river health in the Salween’, Vientiane, Lao PDR: CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems, (accessed January 2018). Google Scholar

Jones, L. (2014) ‘The political economy of Myanmar’s transition’, Journal of Contemporary Asia, 44(1), 144–70. Google Scholar

Kreft, S., Eckstein, D., Junghans, L., Kerestan, C. and Hagen, U. (2015) Global climate risk index 2015 (Briefing Paper), Bonn, Germanwatch e.V. Google Scholar

Kyaw Phone, K. (2015) ‘Economic management: the NLD’s next big challenge?’ Frontier Myanmar, 5 November 2015, (accessed 10 June 2018). Google Scholar

Lamb, V. (2014) ‘Ecologies of rule and resistance’ (PhD thesis), Department of Geography, Toronto, Canada, York University. Google Scholar

Lebel, L., Manuta, J. and Garden, P. (2011) ‘Institutional traps and vulnerability to changes in climate and flood regimes in Thailand’, Regional Environmental Change, 11(1), 45–58. Google Scholar

Ley, L. (2018/in press) ‘On the margins of the hydrosocial: quasi-events along a stagnant river’, Geoforum, Google Scholar

Linton, J. and Budds, J. (2014) ‘The hydrosocial cycle: defining and mobilizing a relational-dialectical approach to water’, Geoforum, 57, 170–80. Google Scholar

Loftus, A. (2009) ‘Rethinking political ecologies of water’, Third World Quarterly, 30(5), 953–68. Google Scholar

Mark, S. (2016) ‘Are the odds of justice “stacked” against them?’, Critical Asian Studies, 48(3), 443–60. Google Scholar

McGee, T. G. (1991) ‘The emergence of Desakota regions in Asia: expanding a hypothesis’, in N. Ginsburg, B. Koppel and T. G. McGee (eds) The extended metropolis: settlement transition in Asia, Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 3–25. Google Scholar

Middleton, C. (2012) ‘The “nature” of beneficial flooding of the Mekong River’, Social Science Journal, 42(2), 180–208. Google Scholar

O’Connor, B. (2014) ‘Inside Myanmar’s Karen State’, The Diplomat, 8 April, (accessed 10 June 2018). Google Scholar

Philp, J. and Mercer, D. (2002) ‘Politicised pagodas and veiled resistance: contested urban space in Burma’, Urban Studies 39(9), 1587–610. Google Scholar

Pullinger, M., Anderson, B., Browne, A. and Medd, W. (2013) ‘New directions in understanding household water demand: a practices perspective’, Journal of Water Supply, 62(8), 496–506. Google Scholar

Robbins, P. (2012) Political ecology, Chichester, John Wiley. Google Scholar

Saueressig-Schreuder, Y. (1986) ‘The impact of British colonial rule on the urban hierarchy of Burma’, Review (Fernand Braudel Center), 10(2), 245–77. Google Scholar

Song, L. (2013) Secondary cities in southeast Asia: frontiers of opportunity and challenges, MIT, Community Innovators Lab (CoLab), (accessed 10 June 2018). Google Scholar

Sultana, F. (2011) ‘Suffering for water, suffering from water: emotional geographies of resource access, control and conflict’, Geoforum, 42(2), 163–72. Google Scholar

Sultana, F. (2013) ‘Water, technology, and development: transformations of development technonatures in changing waterscapes’, Environment and Planning D, 31(2), 337–53. Google Scholar

Swyngedouw, E. (2004) Social power and the urbanization of water: flows of power, Oxford, Oxford University Press. Google Scholar

Swyngedouw, E. (2009) ‘The political economy and political ecology of the hydro-social cycle’, Journal of Contemporary Water Research & Education, 142(1), 56–60. Google Scholar

UNDP (UN Development Programme) (2014) The state of local governance: trends in Kayin, Myanmar, UNDP, (accessed 10 June 2018). Google Scholar

UNESCAP (UN Economic and Social Commission for Arts and the Public) (2013) The status of the water-food-energy nexus in Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, UN-ESCAP, (accessed 10 June 2018). Google Scholar

World Bank (2016) A country on the move, Yangon, Myanmar, World Bank. Google Scholar

Zhen, N., Rogers, S. and Barnett, J. (2018) ‘Everyday practices and technologies of household water consumption: evidence from Shanghai’, Environment and Urbanization, Google Scholar

If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here


Author details

Lamb, Vanessa