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Insights on migration amid climate change

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Research conducted in coastal Bangladesh reveals the growing impact of climate change on lives and livelihoods.

Action Research conducted in the Southwest Coastal Belt of Bangladesh

Throughout its history, Bangladesh has frequently been affected by natural disasters, and its people have often been forced from their homes as a result. In recent years, however, both migration and displacement have become increasingly linked to changes in climate patterns.
To better understand these migration patterns and their impacts on local people’s livelihoods, HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation and Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program (OKUP) teamed up to conduct an Action Research in two disaster-prone districts, Khulna and Bagerhat, in the coastal belt of Bangladesh. Consisting of a primary survey in 2018 followed by a secondary survey in 2020, this action research is supplemented by five in-depth case studies that provide insights into the resulting individual struggles of women and men.
Taken as a whole, this publication intends to widen the knowledge and evidentiary base surrounding the interrelatedness of climate change and migration.

The coastal belt of Bangladesh is one of the country’s most disaster-prone areas, experiencing both slow and sudden onset disasters. It is also a densely populated region, with an estimated 14 million inhabitants, which corresponds to roughly 9% of Bangladesh’s total population (Population Monograph of Bangladesh, 2015; BBS, 2018). This large population is also highly vulnerable due to their socio-economic situation, and when faced with increasing frequency and intensity of cyclones, storms, floods and salinity intrusion, the risks to people and their livelihoods, the local and national economy is large and growing disproportionately (SREX, 2012).

Recent scientific studies (Bhowmick, Uddin & Rahman, 2016; Haider & Hossain, 2013), substantiate our longstanding experience on the ground that a changing climate has reduced agricultural yields and narrowed the options for land- and water-based economic activities for people in Khulna and Bagerhat over the last 15 years. Two-thirds of those surveyed reported that Cyclones Sidr (2007), Nargis (2008), and /or Aila (2009) critically damaged their homes, crops and livestock, while also compromising their food security and ability to generate income. Increasingly salinized soil and water have had the most devastating long-term impacts, forcing people from all strata of society to look for opportunities outside their villages or districts.

Since 2000 – and especially since Cyclones Sidr (Nov. 2007) and Aila (May 2009) – temporary migration has become one of the only or least bad options for coping. Today, nearly 70% of households surveyed include at least one member who works outside the village. Over the last twenty years, temporary migration2 has become more frequent, longer in duration, and an increasingly recurrent coping strategy for a greater number of households in the two districts.

Local, national and global policies offering sustainable solutions to the climate-migration nexus to the affected people are weak, in the rare cases that they exist at all. Hardly any measures exist to prepare rural-urban migrants for their new situations and circumstances, and there are no proper channels or support systems in place for domestic or international cross-border labor mobility or migration. This gap is becoming increasingly urgent, as the number of people seeking to migrate is increasing3, triggered by multiple factors, including climate-induced trends and extreme events.