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a family that was forced to leave their village due to sea level rise

Climate activists: Finance loss and damage to address displacement

The river followed Nasima Begum, 55, like a shadow. 

Twenty years ago, when she lived in Gharisar Union of Shariatpur district in Bangladesh, the mighty Padma River engulfed her home, forcing her to flee to a nearby village. 

Before she could put together her life again, she was displaced once more as the land she was on was eroded by the river.

In this way, Nasima was displaced 15 times in her life.

Gharisar's residents have all faced a similar fate, with the area now largely under water. 

At least 70% of climate-displaced people in Bangladesh experienced displacement more than once, said studies by the Young Power in Social Action (YPSA) and Shariatpur Development Society (SDS) presented at the UN Climate Conference in Glasgow on Wednesday in an event titled "Climate-induced migration in South Asia: Impact of loss and damage." 

The studies also said that 13% of people were being displaced between 5-7 times, while 10% over 10 times. 

During the first displacement, the victims try to relocate to nearby areas, instead of migrating to the cities. 

Similarly, the study said that riverbank erosion has become a common phenomenon along major and minor rivers in Bangladesh, forcing people to migrate or resettle in more vulnerable areas where they lack basic needs and rights.  

As a result of this sort of displacement, 50% of the people have to change their profession. Natural calamities have forced thousands of families to move from one region to another. The erosion also destroys standing crops, farmland, and homesteads every year, affecting millions of people in South Asia.

Quick stats:

  • 70% of climate-induced displaced people in Bangladesh experienced displacement more than once.
  • More than 50% had to change profession.
  • 40 million people may be displaced by 2050 in South Asia.

Another report, the "Groundswell: Acting on Internal Climate Migration", projects that climate change could force 216 million people to migrate within their own countries by 2050; of them, 40 million will be from South Asia.

Harjeet Singh, senior advisor, Climate Impacts of Climate Action Network International and the programme moderator, referring to an Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre Report, said, "Bangladesh and India have been featured among the top five affected countries in terms of climate displacement. Here you see the trend of how people in vulnerable areas are forced to move out of their homes in desperate circumstances." 

"Communities are demanding action at the local level and how to change policies nationally. People are suffering now, and the national government needs to have a budget for it as needed and keep advocating at the international level," he added. 

Singh also said finance is needed to address loss and damage. "We have to have loss and damage finance; when the finance is there, we can support the existing measures required at a national level. Without money [we cannot know] how to offer support; that's why it is extremely important to have finance on loss and damage." 

On local government efforts, Singh said, "We are talking about the issues in the UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change]. While advocating at the international level, we will also act on the ground. We will develop solutions and demand action from other governments. This is the first time a citizen will deal directly with their government. Even though there are fewer resources, the government has to set policies."

Mohammad Shamsuddoha, chief executive, Centre for Participatory Research and Development, said, "We are facing frequent cyclones and intense cyclones; these are causing more devastating impacts in the lands, life and livelihoods... Salinity intrusion causes insecurity and scarcity of water, forcing people to migrate from coastal areas to urban slums." 

He said that they face discrimination in the urban slum, mainly the women and children who are more vulnerable. "We are not doing much in terms of providing technical solutions to climate migrants," he said. 

Suruchi Bhadwal, senior fellow, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), said, "Huge migration has been reported from South Asia. A lot of people from India and other countries in the region have been moving to Europe, America and Canada. If you compare international migration to the migration happening within South Asian regions, even India, there are far more people migrating within countries than internationally."

"Our problem is not international migration, of people moving from Bangladesh to other countries. Our problem is more related to internal migration," she added. 

There may be a lot of debate on why people are migrating, but looking at the underlying issues, it seems most people leave Bangladesh due to environmental factors such as water scarcity, flood-related events, waterlogging, and climate-induced displacement, she said.  India is also facing huge difficulties in handling this migration, she added. 

Mohammad Shahjahan, deputy director of YPSA, during his presentation, said that climate-induced displacement and migration should be treated as separate agendas under the UNFCCC and developed countries have to come forward with technical and financial resources as compensation. 

Rabeya Begum, executive director, SDS, spoke about how women were more vulnerable and becoming victims of gender-based violence and child marriage due to such migrations.

This story was originally published in The Business Standard on November 11, 2021. It was produced as part of the 2021 Climate Change Media Partnership, a journalism fellowship organized by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security.

Banner image: A family lost their home in river erosion in Bangladesh / Credit: Noor-A-Alam (The Business Standard).