NEW DELHI – After the sea swallowed up her home and family in the Bangladeshi coastal district of Bhola along the Bay of Bengal, farmer Sanjeela Sheikh was heartbroken. Stripped of all her belongings, her fields swamped and her loved ones dead, she contemplated suicide.
But good sense prevailed. The frail 36-year-old decided to till her neighbours’ fields in exchange for food. At the same time, she started saving and planning to migrate to India for better prospects like some of her neighbours. Finally, Sheikh packed her belongings and boarded a rickety bus to India’s eastern state of West Bengal. From there, a ticketless train journey brought her to New Delhi where she now lives and works.
“I’ve accepted my fate,” Sheikh told IPS, now employed as a domestic help and living with an Indian family. “There’s no future for me in Bangladesh.”
Along with India, China, Indonesia and the Philippines, Bangladesh is considered one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change in South Asia. Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina acknowledged in a speech last year that roughly 30 million Bangladeshis will risk becoming climate migrants by 2050.
The reasons for migration are familiar — climate change, loss of livelihood due to disasters like cyclones, drought, ingress of the sea, and lack of fresh water for agriculture. In its report Climate Change and Migration in Asia and the Pacific, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has highlighted grave causes and ramifications of climate-induced displacement. As per ADB, roughly 37 million people from India, 22 million from China and 21 million from Indonesia will be at risk from sea levels rising by 2050.
Changing weather patterns will also impact agriculture, hampering millions of livelihoods around the world, especially of poor and marginalised populations, add experts. Cyclone Phailin, which lashed the coastal Indian state of Orissa in October 2013, has triggered large-scale migration of fishing communities. Ditto the floods of 2013 in the Himalayas, which have wrecked millions of livelihoods forcing people to move elsewhere.
However, among the most daunting effects of climate change is human displacement as it involves migration, protection of vulnerable people and liability for climate change damage. The U.S. Department of Defence has rightly called climate change “an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources such as food and water.”
These words ring all the more true when viewed against the ominous backdrop of the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters. These catastrophes are exposing millions of vulnerable people like Sanjeela to largescale displacement and forced migration. According to the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, at least 19.3 million people worldwide were forced out of their homes by natural disasters in 2015 – 90 percent of which were related to weather-related events.