Climate Migration & Urban planning in Bangladesh: Impact and way forward

By Simi Mehta*

Climate migrants or refugees are the victims of global warming and climate change is forcing them to move away from their places of origin or homes due to inhabitable conditions. There were 25 million climate refugees in 1995, this number is expected to increase to 200 million in 2050. The mass migration of people from rural and coastal regions is attributed to the drastic change in environmental conditions. Countries such as Bangladesh have been faced with the problem of tackling rapid urbanization at a huge scale. Policy and practice are required to evolve into a vertically integrated decision-making system that would link national, regional, and local planning to address climate migration.

The Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi conducted a #WebPolicy Talk as part of the running series #CityConversations on the topic “Climate Migration and Urban Planning in Bangladesh: Impact and Way Forward”. Center for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies at IMPRI invited Dr Reazul Ahsan, Assistant Professor, Department of City and Metropolitan Planning, University of Utah, Salt Lake, the USA as the guest speaker for the talk. Dr Bina Sengar, Assistant Professor, School of History and Ancient Indian Culture, Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University, Aurangabad was one of the discussants in the talk.

Dr Reazul Ahsan opened the discussion by emphasizing the fact how climate migration is not accounted for in the conventional migration theory. The surge in climate refugees could be seen as a recent phenomenon because of which most countries are not equipped to support them as countries still see people seeking refuge because of political or religious persecution.

Migrants under the traditional theory of migration, economic migration respond to push and pull factors. Climate migration is not based on these factors, as they are cornered into a position to migrate. This sort of migration is not well planned and done with immediacy, therefore it limits their options as Climate migration is seen as a multicausal phenomenon, yet environmental players play a major role, unlike economic migration where choice takes center stage. Climate migration has never been addressed directly by most multi-lateral international organizations or developed countries. 

Dr Reazul further elaborated on the timeline of events relating to the changes in recognizing climate migration and the origin and evolution of the discourse around climate change and migration. He discussed multiple scenarios where climate change or the consequences of rising sea levels may have on the coastal regions of Bangladesh. Dr Reazul shared certain photographs of aspects that he witnessed in Bangladesh such as the erection of poor housing on top of sewage treatment pipelines. “Climate refugees have to depend on low-cost housing with an even lower standard of living,” said Dr Reazul.

Most of the housing clusters are constructed around unhygienic spaces using weak construction materials, he emphasized, adding, forced migration causes urbanization which in turn creates informal settlements to meet housing needs and increases urban services. To tackle climate migration, Bangladesh has been preparing policy papers to set precedence over the conduct of administration to control and contain migration.

National Adaptation Programs of Action 2005 set the precedence by identifying migration as an undesirable outcome of climate change. However, Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan which is based on NAPA 2005 did not have any policy designated for migrants. BCCSAP also recognized the fact “hundreds of thousands of people” would have to migrate primarily from coastal areas. Similarly, the National Plan for Disaster Management did not take into account the consequence of resettlement.

Upon concluding his remark, Dr Bina Sengar took over the discussion to give a few pointers of her own and provide her observations on the presentation. Dr Bina was particularly impressed by the approach the Bangladeshi government took which focuses on working on the ground level.

Dr Bina also shared the detail of the project she is involved with which deals with similar issues and touched upon the reaction of host countries to incoming refugees. Dr Bina also touches upon the repercussions faced by countries part of an imperialist economy that does not recognize disasters or displacement of people due to adverse climate change.

AcknowledgmentArjun Sujit Varma is a research intern at IMPRI

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