Postgraduate Profiles

Karen Paiva Henrique

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Thesis: Contested Grounds: Examining the Contours of Flood Adaptation along São Paulo’s Tietê River

Climate change coupled with extensive urbanisation renders flood adaptation imperative, particularly in cities of the Global South where structural disadvantages of the poor translate into high-vulnerability and low-adaptive capacity. Research increasingly suggests that effective adaptation can only be attained through strategies devised in partnerships between the state and the populations most at risk from flooding. Yet, in Brazil, flood adaptation strategies continue to rely on state-imposed technocratic solutions, displacing numerous informal floodplain dwellers who are consistently excluded from formal decision-making processes. A case in point are plans announced by the government of São Paulo to construct the world’s largest linear park – Parque Várzeas do Tietê (PVT) – aiming to restore the Tietê’s floodplain to protect the city against future flooding. The park’s specific contours, however, call for the removal of approximately 7,500 families who informally inhabit the floodplain before its completion. Focusing on the PVT, I use Urban and Feminist Political Ecology to examine how flood adaptation is conceived, implemented, and contested by multiple-stakeholders with competing interests, in a context of uneven power relations. This research will provide a nuanced analysis of how state-led flood adaptation happens in practice, its strengths and shortcomings, examining how it can be better conceptualised. It will also reveal the potential and limitations of multiple actors in enacting adaptation strategies, identifying how their individual approaches enhance, undermine, and can inform one another. These findings will provide valuable lessons for the development of more just and effective flood adaptation projects in São Paulo, and beyond.

Why my research is important

Several cities in Brazil and around the world are currently developing plans for more resilient urban environments, able to cope with the impacts of flood events, or have recently initiated the implementation of adaptive strategies that can still be revised, including the PVT. Thus, this research will be conducted at a crucial time to provide alternatives to state-led technocratic approaches, combining scientific and situated knowledges of flooding for the production of more socially just and effective projects for flood adaptation in São Paulo, and beyond.


Fieldwork visit to the Tietê River - July 2016 , Parque Ecológico do Tietê, São Paulo, Brazil

Sep 2015

Jul 2019