Tag Archives: disaster risk reduction

How to Handle Environmental Refugees?

It’s no big secret that Bangladesh is on the frontline of countries to experience mass migrations as a result of global warming and rising sea levels. This means higher tides in the Bay of Bengal. The result: trillions more liters of water sloshing over a country where three river deltas meet, depositing and taking away billions of tons more of its usual sediment. I’ve heard so many of my colleagues and friends say that each year it seems that the floods caused by monsoon worsens. This year is not an exception. My friends also say that weather patterns these past 20 years especially have regularly produced floods that should otherwise occur just once every 50 or 100 years.

The fear caused by such things has inspired an approach that has rapidly infiltrated into the NGO climate in Bangladesh, with many organizations adding “increasing disaster management and coping capacity” and “disaster risk reduction and planning” to their core goals.

Bengali char-dwellers will be one of the most affected group of people on Earth as the dangerous symptoms of climate change take hold. I have been thinking a lot about next steps – how can NGOs effectively address the char-dwellers’ landlessness in the face of diminishing and changing land? Where will these people go? Dhaka is growing exponentially, they say, because a lot of day laborers in the chars and affected rural lands come to search for jobs and  move their families to the city. Migration out of the country will likely increase as a result of deteriorating farming and environmental conditions all over Bangladesh. A compelling take by the IOM during a recent Climate Change and Migration Policy Dialogue:

“Environmental migration is often portrayed as a failure of adaptation and a worst case scenario. However, while migration can be a manifestation of acute vulnerability, it can also represent a logical and legitimate livelihood diversification and adaptation strategy that has been used for millennia and is likely to be of growing importance in the future. Migration can help reduce risk to lives, livelihoods and ecosystems, contribute to income diversification and enhance overall capacity of households and communities to cope with the adverse effects of environmental and climate change.”

With that in mind, the Indian government’s decision to build a USD $1.2 billion barrier across 2,500 miles of the India-Bangladeshi border (said to rival the Great Wall of China) is understood here to be a preventative measure, linked to the fear of an influx of Bengali environmental migrants. The Border Security Force (BSF), India’s version of Border Patrol, is currently assigned to patrol the barrier. Alarming, since reports in 2009 surfaced that hundreds of Indians and Bangladeshis alike are killed by the BSF indiscriminately along the wall. In fact, read this recent report by Human Rights Watch on new killings along the border just this year.

It’s clear that if these reports are true, treatment of Bengalis and others at the border is a breach of human dignity and a violation of their human rights, whether they are environmental refugees or not. And it also seems to me that more than finding palliative solutions, serious discourse on an international scale should be instigated to shape our migration policies to help those afflicted by environmental changes – obviously, we should share the “coping.” Right? How do we encourage governments to be accountable for the treatment of environmental refugees now and in the future?

Anyway, just some quick thoughts as I continue to learn more and more about the country that seems to be facing a very trying future. To the field for tool testing for about a week (EEK!), so more updates to come then!

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