A Storm Of Climate Change Migration Is Brewing In South Asia

East Asia Forum - Simrit Kaur* | Harpreet Kaur*

With climate change and the associated warmer temperatures already altering the timings and patterns of bird migrations, climate change-induced human migration is not far behind. Estimates suggest that by 2050 there are likely to be between 25 million and 1 billion environmental migrants in the world, with a major proportion of these originating from low and lower-middle income countries.

South Asia is particularly vulnerable to climate change. Nearly half of the region’s population lives in areas that are projected to become moderate to severe climate hotspots by 2050. Unhealthy temperatures and variable precipitation patterns have contributed to declines in agricultural production, productivity and food security. Natural calamities such as floods, tsunamis and earthquakes have increased the susceptibility of the region’s already vulnerable population.
Migration has emerged as an important survival and adaptation strategy. In Bangladesh alone, 15 million people are expected to be displaced due to the environmental degradation of the country’s coastal zone. The bulk of forced climate-induced migration has involved the most vulnerable.
The major migration corridors in South Asia are between Bangladesh–India, Afghanistan–Pakistan, India–Pakistan and Nepal–India. In 2015, more than 85 per cent of migrants in South Asia originated from other countries in the region. There are currently about 3,230,025 and 810,172 migrants from Bangladesh and Nepal respectively in India. Pakistan has about 2,326,275 Afghani migrants. With current levels of transboundary migration already high, it is difficult to decipher the number of these who are climate-induced migrants. As such, climate change has remained largely invisible in discussions about migration.
Empirical evidence suggests that environmental degradation is an important factor in pushing migration, particularly in less developed countries. With climate change already impacting the availability of water, food and arable land in host countries, transboundary migration is expected to trigger conflicts and exacerbate tensions. Migration also contributes to ethnic tensions, discords, distrust and the demolition of social capital.
For instance, many illegal Bangladeshi immigrants are seeking employment in India. This is leading to rising Indian intolerance towards Bangladeshis, especially in Assam and West Bengal. Tensions are also brewing between Bangladeshi migrants and the ethnic Bodo group in Assam. The presence of a large number of Afghan refugees in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is seen by the Pakistani military as a security risk that aggravates drug trafficking, smuggling and terrorist activities. Following the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, agitation by the Madhesis (an ethnic group of Indian origin) in Nepal contributed to nation-wide political turmoil.
The presence of Nepali migrants in Bhutan and India, Sri Lankan Tamils in India and Chakmas in Bangladesh have increased security issues for these countries. South Asia is already considered the second most violent place on earth after Iraq. In 2016, about 20 per cent of all conflicts in the world took place in this volatile region and resulted in about 22 per cent of total conflict-related deaths. Climate-induced migration will worsen these existing tensions.
Cross-border migration also impacts the psyche of migrants. For instance, Pakistan has often used pressure tactics to repatriate Afghan refugees that include imposing insecure legal statuses, threatening to deport asylum seekers in the winter, enforcing arbitrary detentions and conducting nocturnal police raids.
The large-scale trafficking of women and children across borders in the region is another matter of grave concern. Barring Afghanistan, no other South Asian country has signed the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.
Climate-induced migration necessitates the acknowledgement of two issues. First, there are no official definitions of climate-induced migration or displacement at the international level. Second, the negligible data on climate-induced migration inhibits the design of effective resilience and adaptation policies, especially for trans-boundary migration. It is thus important to invest in data and analysis to understand migration patterns and trajectories.
Countries must embed climate-induced migration in their development planning. Bangladesh’s Disaster Management Act 2012, which mentions the rehabilitation of displaced people, and Sri Lanka’s proposed relocation of coastal communities are steps in the right direction. But more needs to be done. Countries need inclusive frameworks that focus on adaptability, such as building climate-smart infrastructure and addressing declines in agricultural yields. To achieve this, South Asian countries need to effectively manage their irrigation projects and adopt land-based greenhouse gas mitigation policies involving agriculture, forestry and other land uses. In the long run, investing in human capital, diversifying income generating activities and pushing towards less climate-vulnerable sectors (including non-farm activities) would help combat migration.
While the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) does recognise climate change as a challenge, migration concerns are only scantly mentioned in the 2014 SAARC Kathmandu Declaration and 2005 SAARC Social Charter. It is important to build solidarity and increase cooperation among the South Asian nations that face common challenges. Developing early warning systems, regional food banks and amenable solutions to water disputes would enhance resilience and reduce forced migration. It would also help in improving the public’s attitudes towards migrant populations and in resolving the social tensions caused by climate migration.

*Simrit Kaur is a Professor of Economics and Public Policy and the Principal of Shri Ram College of Commerce, University of Delhi, India.
*Harpeet Kaur is Assistant Professor in Sri Guru Gobind Singh College of Commerce at the University of Delhi, India.


1 comment :

  1. Hey, there is a broken link in this article, under the anchor text - other land uses

    Here is the working link so you can replace it - https://selectra.co.uk/sites/default/files/pdf/ipcc_wg3_ar5_chapter11.pdf


Lethal Heating is a citizens' initiative