Case studies

We perform empirical analyses of a variety of human-water systems over many decades. Case studies consist of contrasting river basins, floodplains, and cities. They also support the development and corroboration of the system dynamic models developed in this project. The below figure shows a preliminary data analysis in Bangladesh and Rome (Di Baldassarre et al., 2016), as examples of adaptation effect and levee paradox.

Examples of adaptation effect and levee paradox. The left panel shows decreasing flood fatalities normalized by flooded area in Bangladesh (data from Mechler and Bouwer, 2014); while the right panel shows increasing population in flood-prone areas in Rome (Italy), which followed the construction of levees and development of new district in the Tiber’s floodplain (data from Di Baldassarre et al., 2017). Unravelling the mechanisms explaining the emergence of these dynamics is the main goal of WP2.

To this end, we use a vast amount of primary and secondary data, including:

  • Hydrological extremes: river flows, water levels, drought and flood inundation maps (from hydrometeorological services or river authorities);
  • Impacts: direct and indirect damage caused by hydrological extremes (from post-event studies); distribution of impacts across population groups;
  • Society: demographic data (from census), income data, generalized measures of social vulnerability (Adger, 2006), proxies of risk preparedness (e.g. insurance policies), information about temporary and permanent migration as well as social memory of hydrological extremes (surveys), analysis of newspapers; historical documents about changes in policies, institutions and governance (archives);
  • Human alterations: inventory of measures, and their operation rules, that can alter droughts and floods, such as water abstraction, irrigation, reservoirs and levees (official reports).

The sources of key information listed above include both data that are already available and for which only collection, processing and analysis is needed, as well as data that is collected during this project through analysis of archives, surveys and semi-structured interviews. Information about climatic and socio-economic factors operating at larger/global scale is also collected to account for the potential role of external drivers of change.


  • Adger, W.N. (2006). Vulnerability. Global Environmental Change, 16(3), 268-281.
  • Di Baldassarre, G., Martinez, F., Kalantari, Z., and Viglione, A. (2016). Drought and Flood in the Anthropocene: Feedback Mechanisms in Reservoir Operation, Earth System Dynamics Discussions, doi:10.5194/esd-2016-65.