PhD: Nature-based solutions for flood risk management in developing countries; bio-dykes in Nepal

Heriot Watt University

Edinburgh, United Kingdom 🇬🇧


Background: Bio-dykes are a Nature-Based Solution (NBS) to flood risk management (FRM). They combine biological, mechanical, and ecological concepts to stabilise slopes of river banks susceptible to flood-driven erosion; a typical bio- dyke consists of sand bags and bamboo poles to provide early solidity, alongside indigenous plants that provide longer term stability1. In comparison to traditional “grey” infrastructure (e.g. levees), bio-dykes are generally considered to be more cost effective and deliver a wider range of ancillary (social, economic and environmental) benefits2. Whilst they are increasingly recognised as potential options for climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, the general lack of design guidance for bio-dykes, and more generally NBS to FRM, often limits their adoption, effectiveness and long-term sustainability3. Furthermore, although ancillary benefits are assumed, there is a lack of empirical evidence, particularly at local-levels in developing countries4. This lack of technical and broader analysis can lead to the failure of community- based projects, which further increases flood exposure and vulnerability, as well as undermining confidence in NBS.

Aims and objectives: The primary aims of the proposed research are to develop both a robust evidence base, and a design blueprint, for the use of bio-dykes for flood protection in developing countries. The research will use the Terai Region of Nepal as a case study, where project partner (NGO Practical Action) have been implementing bio-dykes for FRM. The project has the following clearly defined objectives:

  1. Review current flood risk management strategies in Nepal and other similar developing countries, including wider social, economic, and environmental issues.
  2. Assess the “idealised” and “as built” characteristics of bio-dykes in developing countries.
  3. Assess bio-dyke performance against the full range of flow loading conditions.
  4. Develop a bio-dyke design guide for developing countries.
  5. Disseminate project findings.

Methods: The research will be supervised by an interdisciplinary team with expertise in flood risk modelling and related laboratory research (Wright), plant biology (Morris) and the social context of FRM in developing countries (McQuistan).

Feasibility: The proposed research builds on Practical Action’s ongoing FRM work in the region and will thus benefit from access to relevant stakeholders and data through their extensive local, regional and national contacts. Practical Action’s Nepal office will also undertake and/or provide logistical support to local researchers for fieldwork activities.

Relevance: In terms of domestic relevance, NBS for flood risk management are increasingly important and practical approaches to FRM in developed as well as developing countries, and the proposed project can thus have benefits to the UK. In terms of international relevance, NBS for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation is one of the core topics for COP265, and this research can contribute to global debates and practices. The proposed project has particular relevance to EGIS, as it not only epitomises the schools focus on global challenges, but it also involves cross-disciplinary working, with supervisors been drawn from IEE and ILES as well as an international NGO. In addition, the proposed experimental work will make good use of EGIS’s hydraulic laboratory, which has been underused for some time.


To be eligible, applicants should have a first-class honours degree in a relevant subject or a 2.1 honours degree plus Masters (or equivalent experience). Additional criteria may apply so please check the specific project details before applying. Scholarships will be awarded by competitive merit, taking into account the academic ability of the applicant.

We recognise that not every talented researcher will have had the same opportunities to advance their careers. We therefore will account for any particular circumstances that applicants disclose (e.g. parental leave, caring duties, part-time jobs to support studies, disabilities etc.) to ensure an inclusive and fair recruitment process.  


The scholarship will cover tuition fees and provide an annual stipend of approximately £15,285 for the 36 month duration of the project and is available to applicants from the UK, EU and overseas.

How to apply

Please complete our online application form. Please select PhD Civil Engineering programme and include the project reference, title and supervisor names on your application. If these details are not included your application may not be considered.  Please note that applicants may only submit ONE proposal.

Please also provide a supporting statement outlining how you would approach the research and upload this to the research proposal section of the online application. You will also be required to upload a CV, a copy of your degree certificate and relevant transcripts and one academic reference. Until your nominated referee has uploaded their statement, your application will not be marked as complete and will not be considered by the review panel.  You must also provide proof of your ability in the English language (if English is not your mother tongue or if you have not already studied for a degree that was taught in English). We require an IELTS certificate showing an overall score of at least 6.5 with no component scoring less than 6.0 or a TOEFL certificate with a minimum score of 90 points.


The closing date for applications is Sunday 31 January 2021. Applications will be reviewed throughout March and applicants will be notified of the outcome of their application by the end of April 2021. Applicants MUST be available to start the course of study on a full-time basis in September 2021.

Please contact the School’s Postgraduate Research Team at [email protected] for further information.