At home and in ex­ile

We need to ad­e­quately plan for in­ter­nal mi­gra­tion due to cli­mate change

The Hindu - - EDITORIAL - Su­jatha Byra­van

At the height of the Syr­ian and Ro­hingya crises, much of the world’s at­ten­tion turned to forced dis­place­ment and refugees. Both ex­em­pli­fied the typ­i­cal con­di­tions under which peo­ple are forcibly dis­placed: war, po­lit­i­cal per­se­cu­tion, eco­nomic in­sta­bil­ity and re­pres­sion. Still, most of the world’s mi­gra­tion is in­ter­nal, i.e. within the same coun­try. Among the tens of mil­lions dis­placed in 2015, 21.3 mil­lion were refugees, but 40.8 mil­lion were in­ter­nally dis­placed. Peo­ple usu­ally change their homes to im­prove house­hold in­come, for mar­riage or other pur­poses re­lat­ing to fam­ily.

With cli­mate change, how­ever, its wors­en­ing slow on­set ef­fects such as droughts, ef­fects from sea level rise and wa­ter short­ages will cause many more to leave their homes and move to safer places. Such mi­gra­tion may be a choice in the ini­tial stages; for in­stance, a young mem­ber may travel to a city close by dur­ing a drought to in­crease his or her fam­ily’s in­come. But as the stress be­comes more se­vere, the de­ci­sion to move may be forced. The grad­ual rise in sea lev­els wherein peo­ple are com­pelled to leave their is­land na­tions in the Pa­cific and In­dian Oceans and be­come cli­mate ex­iles is one such on­go­ing process that will likely in­crease out-mi­gra­tion over time

Why peo­ple move

In “Groundswell: Pre­par­ing for In­ter­nal Cli­mate Mi­gra­tion”, a re­cent re­port by the World Bank, it is es­ti­mated that in Latin Amer­ica, South Asia and Sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa over 143 mil­lion peo­ple would be forced to move within borders by 2050 as a re­sult of slow on­set cli­mate events alone. In the worstcase sce­nario, about 40 mil­lion of these mi­grants would be in South Asia, which is the most pop­u­lous of the re­gions stud­ied, with a num­ber of cli­mate change ef­fects an­tic­i­pated.

The re­port ex­am­ines coun­tries in East Africa, South Asia and Cen­tral Amer­ica more closely. Here, it dives deep into the con­di­tions in Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Mex­ico. Three pos­si­ble sce­nar­ios are de­scribed: high green­house gas (GHG) emis­sions along with un­equal de­vel­op­ment paths, re­garded as the pes­simistic ref­er­ence sce­nario; an in­clu­sive de­vel­op­ment sce­nario with high GHG emis­sions but de­vel­op­ment paths that im­prove ac­cess to ser­vices for the poor and con­sider their pri­or­i­ties and un­met needs; and a cli­mate­friendly sce­nario in­volv­ing lower GHG emis­sions but with un­equal de­vel­op­ment.

South Asia is char­ac­terised by rain-fed farm­land in large parts of the re­gion. With vari­abil­ity in the mon­soons and warmer tem­per­a­tures, crop fail­ures will lead to mi­gra­tion from the Gangetic plains and from the rice-grow­ing north­east of Bangladesh and the in­un­dated coasts. In the pes­simistic sce­nario, the num­bers forced to move in­ter­nally in South Asia are ex­pected to in­crease six-fold be­tween 2020 and 2050 and will con­tinue to rise be­yond 2050 with­out ap­pro­pri­ate cli­mate ac­tion. Even in the in­clu­sive de­vel­op­ment and cli­mate-friendly sce­nar­ios, tens of mil­lions will be forced to mi­grate. While peo­ple nor­mally grav­i­tate to big cities, those along the coast such as Mum­bai, Chen­nai, Chit­tagong and Dhaka will them­selves be vul­ner­a­ble to storm surges and other ef­fects from sea level rise.

The poor would be the worst af­fected by these slow on­set events and most of them would mi­grate out of ru­ral ar­eas to nearby ur­ban set­tle­ments, which would be cities and the peri-ur­ban sur­round­ings. Such “hotspots” of in and out mi­gra­tion would be stressed for nat­u­ral re­sources, pub­lic ser­vices and liveli­hoods. In In­dia, ar­eas be­tween Chen­nai and Ben­galuru have been high­lighted in the re­port along with those around Mex­ico City, Guatemala City and Nairobi. In In­dia, there are al­ready signs of un­planned and fron­tier-led growth in peri-ur­ban ar­eas. Past ex­pe­ri­ence shows that plan­ning that ig­nores the ecosys­tem ser­vices pro­vided by lo­cal nat­u­ral re­sources such as wa­ter tanks and forested ar­eas gen­er­ates fur­ther prob­lems par­tic­u­larly for the poor­est and most vul­ner­a­ble.

The im­pli­ca­tions of these in­ter­nal mi­gra­tions will be sig­nif­i­cant for de­vel­op­ment in the ar­eas and for the lives of these peo­ple. There­fore, un­der­stand­ing mi­gra­tion pat­terns, get­ting bet­ter so­cioe­co­nomic data on mi­gra­tion and pre­par­ing in ad­vance through ap­pro­pri­ate plan­ning be­come crit­i­cal. The sce­nar­ios used in the Bank re­port could be ex­tended to cover other time pe­ri­ods and could also be more lo­calised. Cur­rent cli­mate modelling meth­ods are not ac­cu­rate at high res­o­lu­tions for lo­cal de­ci­sion-mak­ing, but these are ex­pected to im­prove over time.

What can be done?

What kind of poli­cies are needed? Re­duc­ing GHG emis­sions is of ut­most ur­gency, al­though that seems to be tak­ing place at a pace de­ter­mined by geopo­lit­i­cal as well as lo­cal ini­tia­tives. Sec­ond, in­te­grat­ing in­ter­nal mi­gra­tion with on­go­ing de­vel­op­ment plan­ning is vi­tal. The peri-ur­ban ar­eas, which are ex­pected to be hot spots, al­ready show prob­lems of wa­ter short­age, waste man­age­ment, nu­tri­tional de­fi­ciency, lim­ited ser­vices such as health and ed­u­ca­tion, and poor in­fras­truc­ture. Ecosys­tems, part of the nat­u­ral re­sources in peri-ur­ban ar­eas, ought to be pro­tected as “spe­cial eco­log­i­cal zones”, so that as ur­ban set­tle­ments ex­pand, they don’t eat into ecosys­tem ser­vices. Skill build­ing, job train­ing and other op­por­tu­ni­ties for ed­u­ca­tion and jobs for lo­cals and mi­grants would also have to be­come a fo­cal point. Rights for those who are forced to mi­grate would be fun­da­men­tal in these prepa­ra­tions, as stud­ies and ex­pe­ri­ence have shown that ig­nor­ing is­sues of so­cial jus­tice and eq­uity in adap­ta­tion can lead to se­ri­ous gov­er­nance fail­ure. Su­jatha Byra­van, a sci­en­tist, stud­ies sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy and de­vel­op­ment pol­icy

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