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Climate Migration in Indian Subcontinent


Amita Bhaduri, Anshula Mehta, Ritika Gupta, Sunidhi Agarwal, Ishika Chaudhary, Chhavi Kapoor

Climate Migration in the Indian Subcontinent NIDM IMPRI Event Report 14 Apr 2021 pages 1 1

Climate Change is emerging as a stressor that is hindering the development of the Indian sub-continent as it is leading to the disruption in people’s lives to a large extent which is clearly visible in increasing floods in Kerala, Assam in the Indian sub-continent and tsunamis in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and India. Global reports claim that there is a 21 percent decrease in global farming productivity due to climate change, thus, it becomes very important to engage deeply into this issue to build a constructive outlook!

To deliberate upon this important and emerging global issue, the National Institute of Disaster Management, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India in collaboration with the Centre for Environment, Climate Change and Sustainable Development (CECCSD), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, organized a panel discussion on 23rd March 2021 at 2:30 pm on the topic “Climate Migration in Indian Sub-continent.

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Dr Simi Mehta, CEO & Editorial Director, IMPRI, initiated the deliberation by underlining that climate change is real as glaciers are melting at a faster pace; the sea level is rising, and intense heat waves have become common. Net damage costs of climate change are likely to increase. Climate change is leading to the displacement of the people which has led to the emergence of a new category called “climate migrants” which refers to people who have shifted their indigenous inhabitants due to the adverse effects of climate change and marked environmental disruption. Climate change is a hindrance to the ecological balance of the Indian sub-continent in the longer run.

Key Observations by the Panellists

Prof Anil K. Gupta, Head ECDRM, NIDM, New Delhi

Prof Gupta set the tone of the discussion by highlighting that climate change is a topic of wide significance. Climate migration is a new term in the environmental discourse. Therefore, according to him, it is important to understand that disasters are aggravated by environmental degradation, increasing hazards, intensity and propensity.

Disasters often create a long term impact on the environmental ecosystem. Environmental concerns are jeopardised during disasters as the primary focus is on saving lives. Three types of environmental changes are important to understand, first is climate change, second is land-use change and third is natural resource degradation.

Prof Gupta said with conviction that “vulnerability matters” and does not fall from the sky. Environmental migration has been known for ages. Civilizations evolved near water bodies, environmental dimensions have been closely associated with the rise and fall of civilisations.

Migration is an important part of the modern human development era. The trend of migration has undergone tremendous change, i.e., the rate of migration has increased, newer places are emerging as hotspots, additional pressure on development and governance. City resilience and governance need more attention. Migration is an additional disaster going on during COVID-19 as cities are becoming devoid of a workforce. Thus, a planned approach can be a way forward.

Prof R B Bhagat, Professor and Head, Department of Migration and Urban Studies, International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS), Mumbai 

Prof Bhagat focused on the relationship between climate change and migration. A lot of drivers are embedded in the process of climate change. Socio-economic drivers can’t be separated from the process. Various factors are interwoven together, for instance, poverty and employment.

He enlisted forms of migration – forced and voluntary migration. He remarked that climate refugees should also be a part of the category of refugees. Thus, it is important to understand mobility and de-mobility aspects. Seasonal migration is becoming more prominent among construction workers like the sugarcane migration which is common in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Thus, central India is going to be directly affected by climate change and a majority of the tribal population inhabit it which can also lead to conflicts.

Prof Bhagat mentioned that data is lacking enormously. We need to collect systematic data to work in a holistic way towards emerging climate change issues.

Prof Rekha Nianthi, Professor, Department of Geography, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka

Prof Nianthi highlighted that climate change is common in every country. The government needs to be sensitive towards increasing climate change. She contextualised it in the Sri Lankan context by citing some relevant facts and data, i.e, Sri Lanka was ranked 2nd among the countries affected by extreme weather events – Global Climate Risk Index 2019. The vulnerability exists both in terms of fatalities and economic losses. Consequently, there is an urgent need for the sustainable global, country and regional specific models.

Temperature is increasing, the intensity of droughts and floods, irregular changes in rainfall patterns; boundary shift in climatic zones is a point of concern. Mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage needs to be deeply focused upon as a means of implementation of climate justice. In Sri Lanka, permanent migration is considered as the last adaptive response (i.e. landslide resettlements). Even for migration, people require some kind of resources and people having inadequate resources are not able to migrate. Thus, an integrated approach is required to build climate-resilient and healthy human settlements.

According to Prof Nianthi, timely intervention and robust policies are needed across the sectors. Government should focus on developing a partnership with financial institutions handling remittances to encourage such institutions to offer opportunities to vulnerable communities in order to build back better. Sea level rise poses many challenges to coastal communities in particular and their livelihoods as it can lead to inland migration in future. Proper adaptation can prevent loss and damages. The relationship between disaster and development needs more research. She concluded by asserting that migration can itself be an adaptation failure.

Mr Karan Mangotra, Program Officer, UN Environment Programme (UNEP), India Office

Prof Mangotra underlined that climate change is largely a development issue. Migration can be seen as a coping mechanism or an adaptation issue. A need basis approach is required in understanding this complex issue to comprehend long term climatic effects.

According to him, it is important to understand where we are and where we stand today when it comes to climate change. Inter-border issues also need the deeper attention of all the stakeholders as migration can’t be linked to any particular factor. We need to strengthen the science to understand migration. Capacity building and community involvement can be an effective solution in the longer run.

Dr Fawzia Tarannum, Assistant Professor, TERI School of Advanced Studies, New Delhi

Dr Tarannum centred her discussion on the gendered impact of climate change and rural to urban migration. It is vital to understand women’s role such as during provisioning water, fuelwood for which women have to travel longer due to depleting local resources. Female mortality in tsunamis is much higher which is not just a coincidence.

Dr Tarannum contextualised the state of the problems by focusing attention on farmer suicides, unplanned migration, cities loans, and increasing slums, access to schooling, water and sanitation. She asserted that the feminisation of agriculture is leading to the feminisation of poverty. There are additional responsibilities on women, i.e., reproductive role in looking after the family. It is important to recognize the intersectionality of issues. For instance, in human trafficking in disasters, widows are more vulnerable.

Dr Tarannum appraised that women tend to show a more environment-friendly attitude. Women are more resilient by design. Many women are now engaging in solar system programmes in rural areas. Gender disaggregate data and gender-sensitive budget is the need of the hour. Also, gender-neutral policies should not be gender-blind. An online database needs to be there and a national action plan for climate change can be a way forward.

Prof Mizan R Khan, Deputy Director, Int’l Centre for Climate Change and Development, (ICCCAD), Independent University, Bangladesh 

Prof Khan propounded that borders are becoming less porous in the contemporary era. He dwelled upon the question of “How we can have a planned location at borders?” Relocation can be started in a planned way and contribute to the economy in an effective way.

Prof Khan mentioned that lack of political will is a cause of concern as climate change is an emerging human security issue and can’t be under the carpet anymore.

Prof Deepak K Sharma, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi

He focused on the trinity of diversity, complexity and inequality. According to him, it is vital to understand the way society interacts with nature to build long term sustainable models. Poverty induces seasonal migration. Therefore, long term engagement with the communities can lead to more awareness among the masses.

Prof Sharma highlighted that socio-political and economic factors are intertwined. Institutional structures need to be looked upon deeply to reconstruct livelihoods effectively. Reproduction of inequalities needs a structural solution.

Characterisation of processes is very important. Why marginalised is part of modern slavery is a question that needs more discussion and deliberation as it can lead to further alienation of the disadvantaged sections of society. He concluded by underlining the increasing commodification of nature which is part of the inequality dimension.

Major points from the Q & A

Prof Bhagat responded to the questions related to adaptation by highlighting that there are many forms of adaptation. Resource depletion is the major cause of migration as migration results from wage inequality. There should be a mapping of the villages as there is networking of migration. Thus, disaster management needs to be planned in a long term manner.

Mr Karan opined that the right economic models need to be in place. A big part of implementation lies at the local level. One size fits all approach doesn’t work, best practices need to be adopted. A deeper explanation of climate-induced migration is the need of the hour. Figuring out where we are today and then making them work at the local level can be an effective approach.

Related to the question of human-animal conflicts in Sunderban and how we can generate livelihood, Prof Khan highlighted that we need to look more into Sunderbans and beyond its mere borders. Corrupt timber marches need to be stopped as soon as possible. Thus, joint collaboration is needed.

Dr Fawzia responded to questions by talking about two projects, she is working on: one was with sugar mills in Uttar Pradesh where they are training farmers and women to adopt best practices. The second was in Tamil Nadu where her students are focusing on water management techniques. According to her, one should collaborate with NGOs as they work closely with people, and skill-building programmes can be a way forward in mitigating problems of climate change and building stronger communities.

Prof Mishra responded to the questions posed to him by asserting that enhancement of opportunities is the need of the hour to prevent migration. Policies of exclusion should be negated. An adequate institutional framework and multi-layered approach to address inequalities should be the focus of various stakeholders. According to him, universal social security can be a way forward.

Concluding Remarks by the Panellists

The panellists concluded by giving a positive way forward for further engagement. According to them, it is important to find the root causes of the migration and there needs to be increased focus on mitigation and adaptation. It is necessary to focus on climatic drivers of migration. It should be migration by choice and not forceful. Resilient communities need to be built. Climate change is real and it is happening. Thus, cities should have a long term plan as the majority of the population will be inhabiting cities by 2050. SAARC countries need to work together in the spirit of mutual cooperation to boost regional-based solutions. Climate justice should be an integral part of the process and a solution-oriented approach can lead to a more sustainable and equitable future.

YouTube Video for Climate Migration in Indian Subcontinent

Picture Courtesy: Inter Press Service

Climate Migration in the Indian Subcontinent NIDM IMPRI Event Report 14 Apr 2021 pages 1 1

IMPRI is a part of a trans-national research grant funded by SSRC, New York and contributing its expertise on the theme “Environmental Refugees: Climate, Health and Livelihood in the Indian Ocean World“. For more information please visit a dedicated project page hosted by IMPRI here.

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