Bangladesh: Environmental induced migration and its effects


Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries due to climate change. Natural disasters hit Bangladesh almost every year and cause much destruction to the lives and livelihoods of people, especially in the coastal areas, and render huge damages to the national economy. It has long been recognized that the environmental factors have an impact on migration, except until recently the issue received considerable attention within mainstream debates about the movements of people, both within and between states. One of the major challenges of environmental degradation in Bangladesh is climate-induced migration, i.e. mass movements of people especially from rural to urban areas. The security threats of internal migration are enormous. Climate-induced migration creates severe non-traditional security threats including massive displacement, food insecurity, water crisis, unemployment, which often lead to internal conflicts in Bangladesh. It has also become a major policy concern and a subject of a heated public debate in Bangladesh when more than 50 million people still live in extreme poverty line in Bangladesh belonging to remote and ecologically fragile parts of the country. Consequently, a large number of its people are on the verge of great security threats. If the security threats are not properly addressed with sufficient adaptation mechanism strategies, the crisis can lead to major human security threats in Bangladesh. One of the major issues of concern is that despite having severe challenges, Bangladesh lacks adequate adaptation and disaster management mechanism policies to combat the security threats.


Climate Change and displaced persons:

“Climate change” means a change in the climate that attributed directly or indirectly to human activity, alters the composition of the global atmosphere and also natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.

However, IPCC (2007) refers it as ‘a change in the state of the climate over time, whether due to natural variability or as a result of human activity’.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has defined climate change as “a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity”.

So it’s evident that human activities have major impacts on the climate.

Climate change affects the displacement of people because of :

  • Unpredictability: the intensification of natural disasters both sudden and slow-onset leading to increased displacement and migration;
  • Increasing Climate Vulnerability: the adverse consequences of increased warming, climate variability and of other effects of climate change on livelihoods, public health, food security and water availability, it also leads rising of sea levels that make coastal areas uninhabitable;
  • Scarcity of Natural resources: competition over scarce natural resources potentially leading to growing tensions and even conflict and, in turn, displacement.

Bangladesh’s vulnerability to natural hazards leads to climate displacement. The forced displacement of individuals and communities from their homes and lands happens in two processes including sudden processes like flood, cyclones and river bank erosion. Another method or process of environmental displacement is known as slow processes that include coastal erosion, sea-level rising, saltwater intrusion, changing rainfall pattern and drought.


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Climate Displacement in Bangladesh

Dr. Nishchal N. Pandey (2016) in ‘Refugees and IDPs in South Asia’, mentioned that refugees are recognized worldwide as one of the primary sources of war, famine, insurgency or inter-state warfare. These days they are widely regarded as a source of international terror networks and need to be stopped, controlled.

Regarding the disaster management mechanism strategies of Bangladesh, C. Emdad Haque and M. Salim Uddin (2013) mentioned some significant improvements. They referred to human-induced climate change as one of the major issues of concern which needs to be properly identified. The country has changed traditional roles of non-structural measures as well as taken pre-disaster mitigation and preparedness mechanisms.

Mahmuda Khatun (2013) focuses on the relationship between climate change and migration in Bangladesh. He cited by 2020, 78 million people may be displaced due to climate change in the country and threats will mostly come from tsunami and cyclones. The crisis may give alarming rise to international migration as well.

S D Muni and Lok Raj Boral in their book ‘refugees and regional security in South Asia’ stated that South Asia has within it a host of “push factors” which generate refugees, including inter-ethnic strife and religious fundamentalist. The emphasis on the case study of India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka’s migrants and refugee problems.

Matthew Walsham (2010) elucidated that both gradual environmental change and extreme environmental events are increasing environmental migrants in Bangladesh. The consequences of climate change including its effects on migration will be most severe for the developing countries like Bangladesh. He clarified that the vulnerable regions are also faced with the consequences of growing pressure on the environment as a result of rising demand for water, inadequate maintenance of existing embankments and other environmental protection measures, and rapid and often unmanaged urbanization and industrialization whereas the risks of threats are gigantic.

Daine C. Bates (2002) distinguishes environmental refugees from other refugees and migrants. The environmental refugees have very limited control over their decisions as they have no other choice. Most of them are compiled to flee their place.


Loss and Damages of environmental migration:

In the post-cold war era, as in the period after the first and Second World War, forced population displacements have proven to be a prominent consequence of the demise of old ideologies, the collapse of existing empires and the formation of new states. Large-scale displacement of people may also prompt other states and regional organizations to deploy their armed forces. Whether such action is taken with or without the consent of the country concerned and whether it is prompted by humanitarian or strategic considerations, it inevitably has an important impact on the local balance of political and military power.

In the case of Bangladesh and environmental internally displaced persons the losses could be described under these subheadings:


Economic threat:

According to Guardian report every day, some 2000 people moved into Dhaka the capital city of Bangladesh because of piles of earth changing climate which leads cyclones, drought, floods. The economic threat is growing because of speedy internally displaced persons in the urban arrears of the country


Drug & Human Trafficking:

People living in slum areas are mostly daily laborers and their children’s are mostly street children’s and baggers. This generation is highly vulnerable and they are involving with the local drag dealers and mafia gangs. Some girls are forced to do prostitution and human trafficking is also happening. Internally displaced persons are not economically solvent and that leads the internal security threats.


Health insecurity:

Health security is another aspect that is affected because of environmental displacement. The displaced persons have no healthy place to live in slum areas the services are very limited, affordable formal primary health care services are also scarce and provided by nongovernmental organizations working on the project basis. Slum dwellers are having low-cost treatments for a general range of illness including fever. In health sector, the reproductive tract infections are common and sexually transmitted diseases. Another situational analysis on slums in Dhaka city by saving the children 2014, estimated that two in every five cases of people experiencing illness sought treatment from pharmacies.


Food insecurity:

According to FAO report, during the last two decades, 200 million have been lifted out of hunger and the prevalence of chronic malnutrition in children has decreased from 40 to 26 percent worldwide.

Environmental vulnerability leads the food insecurity. The agricultural sector affected most because of climate change and change in weather. Sea-level rise affects the livelihoods in coastal areas and river deltas. Melting glacial is also affecting the quantity and reliability of water available and change patterns of flooding and drought. Food availability, food access, food utilization and food stability affected by climate change.


Read Climate Change impact on health



The changing environment and frequent migration trends hamper the socio-economic conditions especially giving rise to environmental migration.  The poor suffer most because of their limited capacity to cope with the changing environment. The environmental displacement impedes the national strategy and that creates security challenges. Poverty, migration and environmental changes link up with the security issues of Bangladesh. So the environmental degradation and environmental migration issue have to concern as security issue for Bangladesh.



Alma Siddqua Rothi

MSS student, Center for South Asian Studies, Pondicherry University, India.

studied, International Relations, Jahangirnagar University, Bangladesh.


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