In Bangladesh, one in every seven people will be displaced due to climate change by the end of 2050, according to recent estimation. Sea level rise may cause the displacement of up to 18 million people of Bangladesh. Natural disasters are another reason for displacement where 700,000 people on average migrate every year according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. In 2009, cyclone Aila displaced millions of people and many agricultural lands submerged with saline water. According to the German Watch Global Climate Risk Index report Bangladesh is the seventh most vulnerable nation due to climate change whereas Puerto Rico, Myanmar, and Haiti are the most affected countries in the world. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that Bangladesh may lose approximately 17% of its land by 2050 and affect 15 million of the coastal population. Around 30% of agricultural land is included in this loss. In March, 2018, the World Bank stated that 13.3 million people will be displaced by 2050 due to climate change which will be the single most reason for internal migration in the country.
People are exposed to different extreme events and hundreds of millions (200 million) will be displaced around the world from their land in the future. This kind of displacement will form a new social group called “climate migrants”. Climate migrants or climate induced migrants are those people who are internally or externally displaced due to floods, cyclones, river erosion, and rise of sea level which affects their lives and living conditions. Here, the main drivers of migration are environmental change and disasters. Often, climate migrants refer to climate refugees or environmental refugees to draw attention. However, there is no legal basis according to international refugee law. Climate migration is not forced and mostly happens internally. The first ever negotiated global framework on migration [Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (2018)] recognizes that disasters and climate change are linked with migration and we cannot avoid it.
Nowadays, we observe erratic weather patterns like heavy rainfall and droughts due to climate change. Here, excessive water washes away due to heavy rainfall and ultimately depletes the underground water table. Saltwater intrusion into agricultural lands is also observed as a result of sea level rise in coastal regions. In 2016, there were four cyclones in the Bay of Bengal named Roanu, Kyant, Nada, and Vardah where one cyclone occurs per year. All of the reasons make life miserable as livelihoods are disrupted in various ways. As a result, people fled from the coastal areas and ended up in urban slums mostly in Barisal, Khulna, and Dhaka.
[Josna Begum in front of her house in Kalabogi, Khulna]
Every year, around 1,000 to 2,000 low income migrants arrive in Dhaka, the megacity of Bangladesh. A study conducted in 2012 concluded that a changing environment is the main reason for migration. Life is difficult for migrants. Generally, men drive rickshaws as a main source of income. On the other hand, Women work as servants or work in the garment factories. Often, migrants discover without home due to the regular fire and eviction risk in urban slums. Their dream ended in a minute.
Josna Begum, 60 years old, lost her husband and house during cyclone Aila in 2009. Since then, she has been living on the bank of Vadra river and heavily dependent on the river for her livelihoods. Life is so unpredictable for her due to extreme weather events. Women are the first people to face the climate change impact in Bangladesh. For instance, 90% of women died in the 1991 cyclone. Women have less access to land, resources which makes them more fragile during climatic and post climatic events.
Salinity and flooding make life harder for people living in coastal areas. At the same time, life is even harder in urban slums due to the less services like water, sanitation, shelter, and livelihood opportunities. We must act now to protect those climate migrants and save their lives and livelihoods. It is necessary that effective solutions are needed when dealing with this growing crisis. The hope is that Bangladesh adopted the National Adaptation Programme of Action (2005) and Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (2009) to regulate the climate crisis. Research pointed out that low cost housing and job opportunities in migrant friendly cities would help those fleeing due to the effects of climate change. In addition, rights based solutions are necessary for those affected migrants. Government, civil society, communities, and international community must act together to combat the present and future climate migrant’s crisis in Bangladesh.
The writer is a climate activist
BDST: 1833 HRS, NOV 22, 2021