Climate change migration: some observations about India

This is a longish post on climate change and migration. The effect on climate change upon migration at a global level is a matter of conjecture. Several hundred million people are expected to migrate internally to due climate change by 2050.

Here I fill in the picture with a few observations about India. I draw on two studies which depict the climate related stresses and discuss government programs to mainly provide economic support.

Rapid and slow onset of climate disruptions and migration

One study, co-authored by my friend Nikhil Raj, focused on two sub-state regions:

Kendrapara had been one of the most fertile and prosperous regions of Odisha state, which lies on the Indian Ocean coast southwest of Kolkata. But climate extremes, in the form of rapid-onset events, have proven that even stable ecosystems and prosperous economies can collapse. More frequent rapid onset events such as cyclones and floods coupled with slow onset events such as sea-level rise and sea water intrusion have caused loss of livelihood assets, soil erosion and land degradation.

All Kendrapara respondents reported a change in precipitation and higher temperatures over the last five years. More than half reported that environmental stressors (floods, cyclones, erosion, and so on.) have become more hazardous and frequent in the last decade.

Palamu district in Jharkhand state, west and northwest of Kolata, is one of the most exposed and vulnerable regions to slow onset climate change impacts. Over time, the climate of Palamu has shifted from sub-humid to semiarid, causing frequent and prolonged drought and frost.

Source: Social protection and informal job market reform for tackling the climate migration nexus. (IIED Working Paper Sept 2022.)

Teasing out climate-based from total internal migration.

Another study based on surveys in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh states reports. These cases examplify how climate change related migration aound the world of signficant numbers may be centered in rural areas where there is a pre-existing pattern of circular or permanent migration to cities.

The relationship between climate change stress and its impact on migration is complex to understand. It is very difficult to distinguish individuals for whom climatic factors are the sole motivation for migration because several economic and sociopolitical factors interplay with climate drivers to increase the vulnerability of a household. Separating out permanent from circular migration is difficult. Some 200 million persons are estimated to engage in circular migration.

Migration in three studied states is massive. Migration from the three states is predominantly seasonal (61.4%).  Overall, about 31% of households intend to migrate in the future. Respondents who do not intend to migrate said that the fear of leaving their family unprotected and family commitments are barriers to migration. Around 80% of the respondents said that migration improves migrants’ economic security, education and work opportunities. It also enables them to bring new ideas and practices back to the village.

Almost 94% of households reported that the main reason behind migration is economic, with most migrants moving in search of better employment opportunities. The second most frequently mentioned reason was family obligations (17.8%).

As many as 35% of respondents in Uttar Pradesh reported that they were not working in their own villages due to climate shocks. More than two thirds (70%) of the respondents indicated that drought/irregular rainfall is a significant stressor. In addition, 23% of households mentioned flood as a significant stressor, while 8.3% mentioned hailstorms. More than 70% of the households in study regions said that the frequency of droughts had increased significantly in the last 5–10 years.

Source: Connecting the dots: Climate change, migration and social protection (IIED Working Paper October 2021)



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