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FEATURE: Building evidence of climate change induced migration in Bangladesh

Bangladesh is ranked as one of the most climate vulnerable countries in the world.  It is at extreme risk of floods, tropical cyclones, sea level rise and drought, all of which could drive millions of people to migrate.  Although climate change induced migration in Bangladesh is significant, surprisingly, there are very few empirical studies specifically on how climate change influences migration – which, in turn, means a lack of conclusive evidence on how CC might influence migratory patterns in future.  This makes it hard to identify adaptation measures to deal with this major issue. Current policy planning in Bangladesh for climate change adaptation does not sufficiently address the growing problem of climate change induced displacement, especially large-scale migration.

These gaps are being addressed in a research project undertaken by RMMRU in partnership with the Sussex Centre for Migration Research (SCMR) of the University of Sussex, UK. Funded by CDKN, the Adaptation Policy Options and Interventions for Climate Change Induced Displaced People Project seeks to provide high quality, robust research on climate change and migration in Bangladesh, identify policy gaps and initiate policy advocacy to support adaptation planning and implementation around CC-induced displacement.

The project entails the collection and analysis of both qualitative and quantitative data on the impact of climate change on human displacement, as well as a review of the existing policy framework and interventions underway in Bangladesh.  Sussex University provides the methodology for data collection and analysis, while RMMRU is responsible for actual implementation on-ground.

RMMRU has made good progress on field research. This is being conducted in five districts which include both origin and destination areas.  Areas of origin are Munshiganj (prone to river bank erosion and floods), Chapai Nawabganj (prone to droughts) and Satkhira (prone to cyclones), while areas of destination are Dhaka and Khulna.

Collection of qualitative data is complete, while quantitative data collection is underway. The former includes behaviour and attitudes towards climate change threats, livelihood choices, migration destinations and networks, while the latter involves the collection of individual and household longitudinal data (migration histories) and community-level and environmental data on topics such as migration, employment, assets base and marital histories.

Conducting the research has been extremely challenging as it involves remote areas with very little communication and accommodation facilities, and requires gender balance in the research team and respondents. Carrying out field work in the India-Bangladesh border areas is particularly risky as well as sensitive.

The initial findings show that the average duration of seasonal migration has increased from six months to nine months as availability of work decreased further due to climate change events. Affected people are using different types of migration as one of their coping strategies in the face of different climatic events.  Migration has enhanced the resilience of the affected households. Findings inform that instead of looking at migration as a failure to adapt it can be viewed as one of the strategies of adaptation.

RMMRU recommends that National Adaptation Programme of Action of the GoB, Disaster Risk Reduction Strategy and Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan should look at migration as an option rather than threat. The Overseas Employment Policy of the GoB should incorporate provisions for facilitating international migration from climate change affected areas. The overall aim of the project is to bring about the adoption of policies on climate related migration by key ministries such as Agriculture, Disaster Risk Reduction, Water and Land, and increased national capacity on migration and climate change.

RMMRU has already started its ground work for policy advocacy based on the evidence from the qualitative data. To disseminate new knowledge on climate change and migration, RMMRU has made presentations in different workshops and seminars including the ‘South-South Cooperation for Addressing Loss and Damage’ meeting held in Dhaka in February 2013 and World Social Forum on Migration held in Manila in 2012.  The Unit is in the process of convening a workshop to share the qualitative research findings with relevant ministries and government officials.  RMMRU is confident that it will be able to influence different ministries to extend their migration processing services in the climate vulnerable locations.

RMMRU is also working to provide practical support on ground. In Satkhira, for example, the research team found that respondents did not have information on training and facilitation opportunities being provided by the government to find jobs in the formal sector within Bangladesh as well as in the wider international labour market. While collecting data, the team also disseminated brochures giving information on formal migration procedures for local and international jobs.

Dr Tasneem  Siddiqui, is Professor of Department of Political Science and RMMRU, University of Dhaka

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