Archive for March, 2020

Handling crises in Ecuador

My family and I moved to Cuenca, Ecuador last June for a year sabbatical.  Over the course of the year, we have had our share of wonderful adventures and travels – to Macchu Pichu, to the Galápagos, to the Amazon, and to other areas around Ecuador.  We have had canopy tours that soar above the treetops; swam with sharks, rays, and sea lions; learned how to work with Ecuadorian bureaucracies to enroll in school; and hiked Incan ruins.

What we hadn’t fully planned for were the unplanned “adventures”.  In October 2019, civil unrest broke out nationwide in this peaceful country, leading to a couple weeks of strikes.  The strike closed the schools, halted supply chains and limited commodity shipments, and stopped all transportation.

Civil unrest (from NY Times)

In December 2019, we had a small volcanic eruption, which made for a few days of difficult breathing. Otherwise, there was no risk and we weren’t threatened by the volcano.


We got past both of these mini-challenges without any issues.  We also weren’t affected by the earthquake last week that hit the coast of Ecuador or earlier ones last fall.

But now we, as everyone in the world, are now confronting a new threat – coronavirus.


Ecuador has been very aggressive in its response.  I think that this is, in part because of the experience with all of the turmoil over the past several months.  A few weeks ago they appointed several regional hospitals as centers for covid-19 – one in our town of Cuenca.  Last Thursday, the 12th, schools stopped for 2 weeks.  This has already been extended.  Welcome to distance learning with videos and assignments coming daily from the school.  The government also started a self-quarantine on the 14th.  They have been increasing the vigilance of this since then.  Now there is a 9 PM – 5 AM curfew.  Non essential trips (food, medicine, employment) are not allowed.  Social gatherings over 50 were stopped on Sunday.  We are not even supposed to walk on the streets or use the parks.  Supply chains still seem to be functioning well.  Even during the Thursday announcements, I went to the store.  They were out of fresh meats and bananas.  There was 10 times the number of people there, but the shelves remained stocked.  My favorite was the “hoarding” behavior that I witnessed – a cart with 5 boxes of Frosted Flakes, several carts with multiple packages of liver, another cart with 7 large tubes of toothpaste.  Interesting.

Yes, these are interesting times indeed.  We are trying to enjoy our time together as a family, keep everyone active in our apartment and avoiding unnecessary social engagement.  We will keep you updated as we deal with the current “normal”.


Webinar on Historical Analysis of Social-Ecological Systems

Hi All!

I wanted to share the recording of a webinar by Professor Hita Unnikrishnan on using historical analysis in the study of natural resource governance and management.  A link to the recording is available here.


One of the biggest gaps in studies of environmental governance is that they often produce what may best be thought of as a snapshot of patterns observed at a given point in time. However, environmental governance regimes are usually path dependent and influenced by events that may have occurred in preceding regimes. Studying historical contexts of environmental governance is thus very important in order to understand the complexities inherent within issues such as the influence of inter and intra community heterogeneities on equitable distribution of resources, varied motivations for communities to engage in coproducing their resources, or the ongoing influence of historical inequities on contemporary landscapes.

However, working with historical data involves navigating through a complex set of challenges that include but are not limited to a) working with data that was not originally created to address the question at hand (for example with maps that originally served as battle plans), b) data that represents specific points of view (for example governmental records that are often silent on everyday experiences or challenges faced by people within a regime), and c) highly subjective data (such as those derived from oral histories). In addition, historical data may be very sparse in certain contexts making its use highly challenging in some areas.  In this webinar I will discuss the use of historical data in studying natural resource governance, the diversity of historical data, limitations and challenges in navigating through temporal data and the ways in which we may combine multiple data sources (such as historical maps, archival records, and oral histories) in order to study historical regimes of environmental governance. I will also illustrate using specific cases from our own work on urban Bangalore, the use of multiple forms of historical data to trace a) social-ecological system change and b) changes in polycentric regime, the role of power in shaping discourses of environmental governance over time, and their influence on the present day.


Hita Unnikrishnan is a Newton International Fellow (funded by the British Academy) at the Urban Institute, The University of Sheffield.  She is also a visiting faculty at Azim Premji University, Bangalore. Her research focuses on examining the politically situated nature of blue and green social-ecological systems transformations in urban areas, highlighting the influence of development and governance trajectories on geophysical, political, and cultural transformations of social-ecological systems, particularly as they relate to the multiple, contested ways in which urban social-ecological resources are perceived and appropriated in cities of the global south. To do this, she deploys a highly diverse and interdisciplinary repertoire of methods that span the range of natural and social sciences including GIS, field ecological methods, analysis of archival documents, oral histories, and textual analysis for context and discourse. Hita has also previously been a recipient of the Prof. Elinor Ostrom Fellowship for Practice and Policy in the Commons for the year 2013.

This is the fifth webinar on methodological approaches to studying collaborative governance and management of social-ecological systems as part of the Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS) working group on collaborative governance.