York researcher part of international project to protect river deltas in South and Southeast Asia

York University Professor Nga Dao is the only Canadian on an international team that will receive 17.2 million British pounds to study how to protect environmentally sensitive river deltas in South and Southeast Asia, the huge supply of food they produce and the livelihoods of local people.

Environmental degradation of the river deltas in South and Southeast Asia could deplete some of the world’s top rice and fish stocks and undermine the livelihoods of at least 40 million people.

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Nga Dao

Dao, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, will focus on the deltas’ socio-ecological systems of three major rivers in South and Southeast Asia – the Mekong and Red rivers in Cambodia and Vietnam, and the Ganges-Brahmaputra in Bangladesh. She teaches in the the Department of Social Science in the International Development Studies and Business and Society programs.

“If we don’t do anything, the food supply will be depleted and we’ll be in trouble,” said Dao, a human-environment geographer and international development advocate. “When you buy fish, there’s a good chance it came from the Mekong River delta, both in Vietnam and Cambodia. When you buy rice, it may have come from the Mekong River delta in Vietnam, which is the world’s third-largest exporter of rice. The fish and rice produced in these areas were once in abundance, but the stock has dropped significantly due to various factors, including saltwater intrusion, climate change, upstream dam construction, chemical overuse, water shortages, and degraded soil and water.”

River deltas are low-lying plains or landforms that occur at the mouth of a river near where it flows into an ocean or another larger body of water. Valued for their highly fertile soil and dense, diverse vegetation, the world’s river deltas represent one per cent of the global landscape yet support more than five billion people.

UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) is funding Dao’s research project with a grant of 17.2 million British pounds (C$30 million).

The research project, UKRI GCRF (Global Challenges Research Fund) Living Deltas Hub, led by Newcastle University, will study the river deltas that are considered among the world’s most at-risk environmental and biodiversity hotspots.

This Living Deltas Hub is funded by UKRI through the GCRF, which is a key component in delivering the U.K. aid strategy and puts U.K.-led research at the heart of efforts to tackle the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Dao will receive about C$240,000 for her research and will work with 50 other researchers from international universities and institutions, including Newcastle University and Durham University in England, Bangladesh University of Engineering & Technology, Vietnam National University and the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

“This study is unique and will be one of the most comprehensive studies covering the three river deltas,” said Dao, who will be leading the project’s efforts to create sustainable development capacity and impact through gender-sensitive learning and knowledge co-creation. “We want to create participatory research which brings together the community, policy-makers and researchers with the collective goal of sustainable development in this region based on the tangible and intangible cultural values of the people. The community’s voice needs to be heard.”

Dao will lead the development of a knowledge-sharing strategy with all parties, as well as monitor, evaluate and learn strategies to enable progress in the South and Southeast Asian river deltas. She will explore opportunities for sustainable development goal-related commercial opportunities for economic advancement in the delta countries. Dao will also oversee the research teams to ensure they are delivering the right activities for the desired outcome.

Find more information about UKRI and the GCRF Hubs online.

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