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FEATURE: New CDKN research shows the reality of climate-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-related migration in Bangladesh is significant, surprisingly, there have been to date very few empirical studies carried out specifically on how climate change influences migration and its wider implications. This has made it hard to identify adaptation measures to deal with this major issue. As a result current policies and plans in Bangladesh do not sufficiently address the growing problem of climate-induced displacement, especially large-scale migration.

The Government of Bangladesh recognised this and therefore asked CDKN to provide them with an accurate assessment of the reality of this growing phenomenon. A partnership with the University of Sussex and Bangladesh’s Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit has carried out extensive research over the last two years to improve understanding of climate-related migration in Bangladesh.

Climate stresses and shocks are significantly affecting lives of millions of people in rural Bangladesh. Many are increasingly resorting to migration as a coping mechanism. In the context of growing climate-related threats in the region, migration has evolved into an effective adaptation strategy. The team has assessed the complicated link between climate change and migration, which is often not explicitly recognised by those moving.

The findings from this research show that migrants are among the most vulnerable groups who often end up living in disaster-prone urban sites and informal settlements. Future migration policies must be designed to support internal migratory movements and focus on providing safe environments and facilities for migrants in areas of settlement.

Migration patterns are changing in Bangladesh, and a briefing note explores the drivers and sensitivities of different types of migrants. Historically migration flows from Bangladesh can be categorised under four main categories; internal, cross-border, short-term contract international and long-term permanent settlement in western countries. However not all types of migrations are equally sensitive to climate change. For instance, migration for permanent settlement is weakly sensitive to climate impacts and so is short-term international contract movement. Displacement and short-term internal migration are the most sensitive flows to climatic variability.

While displacement and short-term movements driven by extreme events have been acknowledged previously, less attention has been paid to the longer-term migration trends. In a study of future migration trends, the team have estimated that around 9.6 million people are likely to migrate from the upazilas (sub-district) level by inland flooding, storm surges and riverbank erosion from 2011 to 2050. This presents significant opportunities for government to respond to the challenge by supporting new patterns of migration. Besides attention to providing safe environments to migrants as discussed above, government interventions should include the introduction of employment skills training in vulnerable regions so that the migrants are better placed to economically take advantage of their movement.

As climate-induced movement increases with increasing climate shocks, so do the socio-economic impacts associated with migration. A briefing note summarizing the research carried out explores how migration influences development outcomes in diverse ways. For Bangladesh, financial remittances have been shown to play a significant role in the promotion of national economic growth. However, migratory movements also entail risks and costs. For example, many migrants to Dhaka find themselves in poor housing prone to environmental hazards and open to exploitation in terms of employment. Migration could also reduce the vulnerability of households by improving access to resources, livelihood strategies, and social networks. Hence, it becomes an effective adaptive strategy. With appropriate policies, the development outcomes of migration can be enhanced. These can include policies to protect the rights of internal migrants, improve working environments and access to health and safety.

It is clear that climate stresses and shocks play an important role in the migration decision-making of people. While acknowledging that climatic stresses will increase migration, this research concludes that instead of looking at migration as a threat, it can be transformed into an effective adaptation tool through policy reforms.  These include enhancing access to migration finance, drafting a climate change policy and internal migration policy.

The research from this project has been documented in five briefing notes exploring these different themes:

Watch a short documentary film which explores the stories behind this research: Climate change and migration – Living on the Go

For more information on this research, please contact

Photo by Steve Evans


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