Climate Change-induced migration: Despair and Dreams

The devastation of climate change is widespread. But organisations such as FES Bangladesh, YouthNet for Climate Justice, and others are offering hope for the climate migrants through stirring the Just Transition Process.

Picture your ideal home: cozy rooms, a well-equipped kitchen, and a spacious front yard where you can breathe fresh air and listen to the birds singing. It's a simple yet comforting feeling. However, for many people, having a place even just to sleep and eat is a luxury they cannot afford. They may have a temporary shelter, but there's always a looming fear of losing it.

"My home is submerged under water completely," said Nasima Akter, a 40-year-old woman in Nazirartek, Cox's Bazar, eastern Bangladesh. “Since then, my family and I have been struggling to find a sense of belonging.” Unfortunately, she is just one of millions.

To this day, a staggering 21 million people across the globe have become migrants due to the climate crisis. To put it into perspective, this equates to the population of Sri Lanka. The World Bank's Groundswell report (2021) predicts that this number will rise to 216 million worldwide by 2050, with 40 million in South Asia alone. The estimation for Bangladesh amounts to 13.3 million.

Nasima Akter previously lived in a comfortable home at Kutubdia Island, an upazila (sub-district) of Cox's Bazar. This island has been inhabited by generations since the fifteenth century. Due to climate change and sea level rise, the island coast is eroding rapidly. Consequently, Nasima shifted to her new location of Nazirartek, located 45 km south of Kutubdia island. However, the people did not choose Nazirartek on a whim. The locals of Kutubdia's coastal fishing communities settled in this destination after they received formal permission from the government due to heavy erosion.

In Nazirartek, she and her family struggle to make ends meet. Sometimes they have no food to eat. On top of that, the place lacks necessities, such as sanitation facilities and a hospital. There is no proper housing and the education available for her children is also inadequate; most of them are victims of child labour.

Nazirartek is renowned for its dry fish business, which is the largest in Bangladesh. The work is limited and sometimes hard, but it is the only viable employment option for climate migrants in the area. A few of the migrants operate vehicles, while others work as fishermen. Because of such limited job opportunities, the migrants cannot even achieve their fundamental rights to live.

But not all is doom. There are signs of hope.

For a starter, the surge of climate migration has started to become part of the discussion and projects. Mongla, an Upazila of Bagerhat District, is considered a climate-resilient town and a good place for affordable housing and education facilities for climate migrants. This place attracts them as an alternative livelihood option, employing around 4,300 people in various industries. Mongla town also has an 11-kilometre embankment, a better drainage system, a water treatment plant, a water reservoir and a loudspeaker system to announce weather news. However, Mongla is an Export Processing Zone with several infrastructures, which has an environmental impact. Without a thorough assessment of future consequences, such industries and Mongla’s deep sea port may have a longer-term effect on both the residents and the environment. Mongla is located just outside of the world’s largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans. Ships pass this fragile ecosystem daily.

Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 is a comprehensive plan initiated by the Government of Bangladesh to address the impact of climate change on coastal regions and support climate migrants. This plan is an umbrella initiative that ties all other sectoral plans, such as the Climate Change and Gender Action Plan (ccGAP) 2013, the National Plan for Disaster Management 2016-2020, the National Adaptation Plan, etc. However, it is crucial to note that these plans have yet to show significant results.

A relatively new concept of Just Transition combines ensuring workers' rights and better livelihoods, all while protecting the environment in one framework to protect climate migrants such as Nasima. Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) Bangladesh is one of the few organizations that has been involved in various initiatives and collaborations to tackle the issue of climate change through the "Just Transition" concept. FES understands this approach will ensure essential support for the climate migrants from the policy level. One of its implementing partners, YouthNet for Climate Justice, works with climate migrants at the grassroots level and fights for climate justice. FES Bangladesh aims to showcase the experiences of climate-vulnerable communities and advocate for a Just Transition in the system through their partnership. This transition will lead to more inclusive growth, benefiting people like Nasima.

Bangladesh Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Foundation (OSHE) is another organization working tirelessly to promote the Just Transition process by equipping the trade union leaders with updated information on climate change and just transition for workers.

Undoubtedly, Bangladesh has made progress in adaptation to climate change. However, it is essential to address the root causes of the climate crisis rather than just focusing on the consequences. This is where Just Transition comes into play. The government, in collaboration with all other stakeholders, e.g. businesses, non-governmental organizations and the media, should prioritize mitigating measures by diverting to sustainable, renewable sources while keeping the climate migrants' transition in mind. It is clear that even though Bangladesh is a small country, it has the potential to become a pioneer in combating climate change. Thus, the country needs to refurbish all its policies through the lens of the environment.

Prepared by Fairuse Akter Mou, Intern, FES Bangladesh.

Fairuse graduated from the Department of Development Studies, University of Dhaka. She is actively involved with YouthNet for Climate Justice, a voluntary platform engaging youths to fight for promoting climate justice.

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