The Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research (AUSCCER) is a teaching and research group focusing on cultural and social aspects of environmental issues. AUSCCER’s expertise and research is wide-ranging. Over the next few months we’ll be introducing some of our academics and PhD Candidates to give greater insight into AUSCCER’s work.
Raiza Sultana is a second year PhD Candidate with AUSSCER. Her research is titled ‘Urban Green Infrastructure in the Global South: Adapting Slums to Climate Change in Dhaka, Bangladesh’ and is being supervised by Dr Thomas Birtchnell and Associate Professor Nick Gill. In this blog post Razia answers some questions about her research and her PhD experience so far.
What is the focus of your research?
My current doctoral research explores the potential of systematic development of urban green infrastructure (UGI) as a form of climate change adaptation in Bangladesh’s urban slums. In my research, I define UGI as trees, plants, gardens and eco-system associated with them. Many of these features are initiated through low-cost grassroots innovation by communities or householders themselves rather than through policy or government initiatives. In my study, I am interested to see how grassroots innovations of slum dwellers on UGI can serve a source of community resilience for them in precarious urban settings.
While acknowledging slum dwellers as one of the most disadvantageous segment of society living in a filthy urban environment in Dhaka, I have tended to focus on the idea that they are no longer an undesirable sign of hopelessness, rather, they can be a new source of possibilities and can show a distinct path of innovation. Drawing on empirical research with householders of informal settlements in Dhaka, one of the striking things I have found that the initiatives of the slum dwellers are small but significant and offer a potentially untapped strategy for adaptation to changing urban circumstances and climates. In mitigating challenging conditions many slum dwellers are pragmatic and aim to solve problems with their latent knowledge and frugal innovation.
I am also interested in unpacking the roles of various stakeholders in relation to UGI in slums. From the experience of my field research I would argue that unlike the Global North, UGI as a risk management strategy is underutilised in the cities of Global South. Since most of the slum dwellers do not have legal lands government does not pay enough attention to ensure sustainable environment through green infrastructure in slums. Yet, climate change adaptation through green infrastructure in cities is nascent for local agencies such as NGOs and CBOs. Since the basic service provision from the government side is inadequate in slums, local agencies are extremely involved with meeting the basic needs of slum communities such as water and sanitation. However, of late, a number of NGOs are involved in multi-fold and diversified activities with grassroots innovations to solve the overwhelming situations in slums.
From field data, I have identified that individual efforts of local agencies are crucial but anchoring rigorous government initiatives are important for ensuring better environment in slums. In this context, my PhD thesis will propose that a combination of policy-oriented (top-down) and indigenous and grassroots (bottom-up) approaches to UGI is a solution to make Bangladesh’s urban slums more resilient to climate change.
What were you doing before joining AUSCCER?
Prior to my doctoral candidature at the University of Wollongong I have worked with the Bangladesh Institute of International & Strategic Studies (BIISS) under Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bangladesh as a core Research Fellow. In my capacity as a Research Fellow at BIISS, I looked into the non-traditional security issues in world affairs especially in South Asia.
Why did you decide to pursue a PhD?
I decided to pursue a PhD for a number of reasons. I feel that the doctoral research will contribute in my career in multiple ways: First and foremost, this higher degree will provide a great opportunity for the students like me who come from a developing country. It will help me to join in a broader research network. Second, this will help me to publish research papers and provide me an opportunity to present the papers in international arena. Obviously, it is useful for uplifting my career! Third, it appears that academic writing and frame the thoughts together are always difficult for a student like me. The comments, feedback and guidelines from my supervisors will help me to develop my knowledge and understanding in systematic ways. Finally, I hope carrying out a more than three years PhD research will be the most productive time for me to develop my English language skill, methodology, concepts and other relevant issues.
What made you go down the path of human geography?
Initially I did not have any plan to study under human geography. I received graduate degrees from the Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka and Development Studies, Queensland University, Australia (Masters). With my multi-disciplinary academic training, I wanted to develop my expertise in the socio-economic issues of rural and urban people in the developing societies. For the last couple of years, I have had the opportunity to work on broader range of non-traditional security issues at my office back in Bangladesh. Later, I have specified my core research areas of interest to the issues of climate change, migration, urbanisation and social deprivation at macro and micro scales. Now, I believe, it is the confluence of so many topics that has led me down the path of human geography!
Human geography means covering a broad range of issues and interesting topics of human and physical environment. I am also fascinated with some core components of this discipline including the connection of people and their vulnerabilities related to natural calamities since I grow up in a country where all these pressing issues are common. In brief, I would say human geography is an important branch of geography that covers all the social, cultural and environmental aspects. Human geography is very interdisciplinary in its nature and having seen the range and relevance of the research areas, I came to realise that my research topic best suits with human geography!
What do you think may be one of your biggest hurdles during your PhD journey?
For me, one of the biggest hurdles in PhD journey is living in a different setting and adapting with so many issues personally and academically. At the beginning of my PhD journey understanding the concepts of human geography was one the biggest challenges since my previous academic background was different. I had to struggle a lot to link the theories of human geography with the aspects of real life scenarios.
Another big challenge for me is relating to work in informal settlement. In Bangladesh, slum is the most unsystematic place in which slum dwellers strive for ensuring the basic provisions such as water and sanitation. UGI is an ornamental issue for them. Hence, in most cases they do not want to cooperate in this regard. Also, it is difficult to trace out slum dwellers in a big slum such as Kurail due to the lack of proper address and GPS navigation system. In Bangladesh, UGI is a new arena in the context of slum. Hence, there are less amount of research materials on slums relating to UGI in the Global South and Bangladesh in particular.
What are you looking forward to most during your PhD journey?
Well, in my PhD journey I am looking forward to the networking with the amazing people of human geography apart from reading, writing and developing my study. As an international student, it is a great opportunity for me to make a global network with other human geographers in Australia and around the world. I want to be the part of that and aspire to disseminate the knowledge through publication of my research . One thing I would mention honestly that I am looking forward to my second field work! Although working in slums is a bit challenge, at the same time it is exciting! I love to spend time in slums since that time I get more opportunities to learn so many things from the vulnerable communities who migrate from rural areas, bear heterogenous backgrounds and are rich in local knowledge. Also going back to my own family and beloved country during field work is really exciting!
A final word from Razia…
Getting connected with the AUSCCER blog is amazing for me! I will cherish the moments that I spent with my AUSCCER friends who are helping me a lot to overcome the hurdles in my PhD journey! I am simply impressed by getting the relentless support and encouragement from my supervisors. I wish and hope their encouragement will help me to go a long way in my career path!
Migration Policy at SAARC Level: Need, Objectivity and Issues, Vinod K. Bhardwaj, Nandkumar N. Sawant (eds.), Human Migration in South Asia: Prospects and Constraints, New Delhi: G.B. Book Publishers, 2015.
Bangladesh India Border Management: Migration Issues, Vinod K. Bhardwaj, Nandkumar N. Sawant& Manoj Kumar Saini(eds.), Borders in South Asia: Interlinkages and Challenges, New Delhi: G.B. Book Publishers, 2015.
Combating Human Trafficking: Bangladesh’s Experience and Challenges, Vinod K. Bhardwaj and Sherap Bhutia (eds.), Human Trafficking in South Asia, New Delhi: G.B. Book Publishers, 2014.
See more of Razia’s publications here.