Human Rights Monitor
Environmental migration and climate change
Oli Md. Abdullah Chowdhury
Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries facing the challenge of climate change. Due to geographic exposure, low incomes and greater reliance on climate sensitive sectors; Bangladesh is likely to suffer more than any other countries in the region. If sea water level rises as predicted, sheer number of displaced people would create additional burden on the economy. Rights of the displaced people are often denied and they tend to suffer from worst human rights violations.
Environmental refugees are those people who have been forced to leave their traditional habitat, temporarily or permanently, because of a marked environmental disruption (natural and/or triggered by people) that jeopardized their existence and/or seriously affected the quality of their life. There is, however no clear definition with which to designate a person as a climate refugee. Researchers have largely agreed that environmental changes will influence migration outcomes through affecting existing drivers of migration.
Vulnerabilities of cities
Commissioned by the UK government, the Migration and Global Environmental Change Foresight Report is the most detailed study carried out on the effect of flooding, drought and rising sea levels on human migration patterns over the next 50 years. The report indicates cities in low-income countries are a particular concern, and are faced with a 'double jeopardy' future. Cities are likely to grow in size, partly because of ruralurban migration trends, whilst also being increasingly threatened by global environmental change. This report, nevertheless argues against trying to prevent ruralurban migration, as this could lead to graver outcomes for those who are trapped in vulnerable rural areas.
Shift in policy
Interestingly, Foresight Report suggests policy makers to make an ideological leap of faith in beginning to see migration as a good thing in order to tackle climate change. Migration has been though seen as a bad thing by the aid agencies as it uproots communities and can create conflict, the report provides evidence to justify a shift in thinking. At the same time, the report also suggests that three-quarters of the migration would be within national borders - predominantly from rural to urban areas.
Climate change and poverty
Climate change will deepen poverty and challenge poverty reduction strategy. Like other parts of the globe, displaced populations are migrating in urban areas of Bangladesh and studies have identified gap of service provisions. Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS 2009) conducted by BBS and UNICEF emphasizes targeting the urban poor is equally valid, feasible and relevant, given that 27 per cent of the country's population is urban and given the fact that the slums are the most deprived areas. Climate-induced flooding and cyclone might compel more people to migrate in cities from rural areas generally prone to natural disasters.
Mangrove Forest and coastal region
Mangrove forest has not only helped reduce vulnerability in the time of disaster, but also contributed significantly in diversifying livelihood options for the disadvantaged people. However, human activities pose serious threats to mangrove forest while the district administrations leasing out the chars to landless people and shrimp cultivators. Newspaper report (The Daily Star/ October 18, 2011) revealed thousands of acres of mangrove forests, created to shield multitudes from natural disasters in the chars (islands) in Bhola and Patuakhali were leased out. Let alone shielding from natural disasters, arbitrary leasing might have a catastrophic effect on ecology and environment.
A multi-pronged approach is needed to tackle migration problems associated with climate change. While lobbying with developed countries responsible for climate change, possible scope of migration for displaced people needs to be explored. At the same time, improved service delivery is needed in slum areas where there is a large concentration of people affected by internal displacement. Fast and foremost, coordination between government departments must be ensured to prevent further loss of mangrove and other forest regions.
The writer is a human rights worker.