Understanding migration and global environmental change nexus in India – Advice. Reply by 24 Feb 2014

Home Forums Understanding migration and global environmental change nexus in India Understanding migration and global environmental change nexus in India – Advice. Reply by 24 Feb 2014

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    Nibedita Phukan, Centre for Health and Social Justice, New Delhi

    Climate change is a major threat to sustainable development. The worst affected by this drastic change are the poor and marginalised sections of the society. Here, it would be important to note that global climate change affects both genders in different ways. It was assumed that the negative impacts of climate change and mitigation measures are similar on both women and men. Clearly, it is not so.

    Women and men face dissimilar vulnerabilities due to the different social rules and not due to the fact that they are naturally weaker. The vulnerability and capacity of a social group to adapt to climate change depends greatly on the accessibility to assets, resources, knowledge, technology, power, decision-making potential, health, education and food. The more assets people have, lesser is the vulnerability that they face. In many areas of research, it has been proved that women tend to have limited access to assets as compared to their male counterparts.

    In many areas of Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh, most men migrate to urban areas in search of livelihoods, women, old age people and children are left behind.  In this region women are deprived of the capacity to cope or learn about their vulnerabilities or rather, being kept out from accessing information. Like most of the rural areas in India, women from this region are facing constraints on both mobility and behavioural restrictions.

    Women and girls in this area face severe droughts and acute water shortage at a much higher scale because they are the primary water collectors, users and managers of water. If water availability reduces the livelihoods of their families, it will be jeopardise and increase their workloads. The decreasing water availability may have secondary effects like less attendance and lower enrolment of girl children in schools. It may also affect women’s engagement in income-generation activities because they are most of the time engaged in fetching water.

    If we look at natural disasters and their subsequent impacts there are more women killed than men. Climate variability plays a critical role in epidemics across the globe and as a result, vector-borne diseases are increasing at an alarming rate. Women have less access to health facilities than men and their workloads increase because they have to spend more time caring for their sick family members.

    It has been predicted that by 2050, climate change could result in plant species extinctions ranging from 18 – 35%. The potential effect will be vast reduction in the bio-diversity and traditional medicine options. Women often rely on traditional medicine and crop diversity for any climatic changes and any variability and/or permanent reduction will impact on food security and health. In Bundelkhand, rural women in particular are responsible for food production since the men often migrate from this area.

    Less rainfall and drought have reduces crop harvest in this area. Women are already more vulnerable to the nutritional problem in Bundelkhand. The National Family Health Survey data shows that 70 percent of the women and 82.6 percent children (6-35 months) in Madhya Pradesh are anaemic.

    Interventions related to risk reduction of climate change and social security should pay special attention to the need to enhance the capacity of women to manage climate change risks with a view to reducing their vulnerability and maintaining or increasing their opportunities for development.

    There is an urgent need to adopt a gender responsive approach towards climate change policies and actions to improve access to skills, education and knowledge.

    Support is needed at every step to build the capacities of women to help them raise their voice and develop the potential capital to demand access to risk management instruments.



    Maroti Upare, Mumbai.

    We must thank Krishnan Srinivasaraghavan for sharing information of  Climate  Refugees in Bangladesh which  has highlighted  impact  of  coastal and riverine migration. The impact is more on fishing community  which resides near coast and river for earning their livelihoods. It is observed that the issue has not been given much serious thought  in India as Bangladesh .In India more than 10 million fishing community  people including those involved in supporting services will be impacted by  coastal climate change. This has relation with loss of livelihood hence this issue needs to be addressed at local, regional and international level.

    I would like to share my work experiences for rehabilitating them as given below:

    • In Bangladesh FAO implemented project `Enhancing food security of coastal community of Cox`s Bazar district in Bangladesh `which was funded by UNDP. The project provided micro-capital grant for alternative livelihood to affected fishing community for settling them.
    • In Sierra Leone, Shenge region island community provided higher power engine fishing boats for fishing in offshore area and settling at other places which are not affected by tides. The project `Integrated development of rural fishing villages in Shenge region of Sierra Leone `funded by UNDP and UNCDF.
    • In Vietnam fish cage culture in promoted in streams for providing livelihood of people affected near rivers  in Northern provinces i.e. Ho beann La etc. .
    • In Central Asia i.e. Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan conducted aquaculture business planning training under TCP  project of FAO  for promoting aquaculture as livelihood for fishing community residing near rivers and reservoirs.
    • Prepared project `Improving access to fisheries sector   for microfinance  and insurance in Central Asia `  which addressed climate change issues to arrest mobility .Project  prepared for FAO covers Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, which is seeking assistance from donors for funding.
    • In India  World Bank supported `Fisheries Management for Sustainable Livelihood (FIMSUL) project` in Tamil Nadu has studied these aspects but not initiated pilot projects .This need to be addressed by implementing pilot projects .

    The above experiences tells that  India need comprehensive planning for rehabilitating coastal  and riverine refugee with enhanced livelihoods  where local, regional and international effort in terms of strategy, capacity building, technical support, funding  and implementation is needed.

    I shall be happy to share my experiences if required, with any organization.



    Deva Prasad M, Prasadam, Thrissur, Kerala

    In this context of ‘Understanding migration and global environmental change nexus in India’ through the human rights approach it is important to look at the need for recognising climate refugees from legal perspective.

    The impact of climate change would include a large number of hostile environmental situations such as floods, storms, droughts, desertification, and the rising level of the sea. These would especially affect populations in the developing countries due to the lack of infrastructure and enabling socio-economic framework to mitigate these adverse conditions. Further, the rising sea level would put in danger many island nations in the Pacific and Asia regions.

    These hostile situations would affect a multitude of human rights, particularly, social and economic rights such as the rights to food, health, housing, and livelihood. The direct and indirect impact of climate change upon human rights is well acknowledged by Resolutions 7/23(2008) and 10/4(2009) of the Human Rights Council.

    The lack of protection in the event of a grave breach of human rights owing to climate change would lead to a situation of extreme vulnerability, especially of the marginalised communities of various developing countries.

    These extreme conditions may induce them to resort to migration. Factors such as poverty, gender, minority, and disability would further add to the vulnerability of people who would be forced to migrate.

    Migrants seeking refuge would fall under the unrecognised category of climate refugees. The rapid rate at which climate change causes crises, warrants a dire need for a rights-based perspective to be brought into the international climate change governance regime.

    A justice and equity argument also supports recognition and the adoption of a rights-based approach towards climate refugees, as the people affected by climate change induced displacement are mostly from developing and least developed countries, which have historically had a minor role in carbon emission.

    The impediment in the quest for recognition of the acceptance of the climate refugee is the vacuum in the existing policy and legal framework – there is no clarity as to the definition or the institutional mechanisms which could be used in tackling the problem.

    There is no obligation on the states that could be traced from the legal or policy framework relating to international environmental law (including the climate change regime) or that of international refugee law.

    We can trace the link between a safe environment and human rights back to the Stockholm Declaration, 1972. Yet, there is no express right to environment evolving out of international environmental law.

    The ambit of the definition under the Refugee Convention, 1951, is quite restrictive and only includes persons who have fled their country in fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

    There is also no uniform definition that is based on any international consensus regarding what would constitute a climate refugee. This adds to the difficulty of developing any effective regime to tackle the issue and impedes the development of any norms or policies as a part of the international climate change regime aimed at by the Conference of Parties (“the COP”) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

    The victims of climate induced displacement are totally devoid of any human rights protection as there is no obligation on the states to accept climate refugees and the victims of climate induced displacement would have to wait for the charity or mercy of other countries.

    In the climate change negotiations, climate change induced migration needs to be accepted as an adaptation strategy of last resort. This would help in the paradigm shift from thinking of climate change refugees as being just a secondary issue.

    The climate change negotiation process should pro-actively try to build consensus among the state parties to agree upon a definition for climate refugees. A uniformly accepted definition would help in the recognition of the importance of tackling the issue of climate refugees and further push the international community to address the issue of developing a policy and legal framework: may be by way of a separate Optional Protocol under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that would place an obligation on the states to provide shelter for climate refugees.

    It would be a good strategy for India to initiate discussion at the global stage regarding creation of  a framework for climate refugees.




    Anupama Vijayakumar, Ahmedabad

    I am giving below an overview of Environment Change induced Migration in Saurashtra:

    Environmental change can occur due to climate change and degrading activities to the environment such as industrialization, depletion of natural resources and pollution.

    Centre for Social Justice has commenced a Coastal Rights program carried out along the coast of Saurashtra. The information gathered from our visits to villages in Junagadh and Veraval reveal that in certain places, the water near the shore has become warmer than before. Where fish could be caught earlier near the shore, the fishermen have to venture out into the deep sea to find substantial fish stock, requiring them to stay for longer periods of time .

    The cases of accidental deaths at sea hence increases. They often have to migrate to other coastal areas in search of fish stock. The smaller non-mechanized boat owners, who previously derived their livelihood from fishing around the shores, are out of occupation.

    The rampant industrialization that has happened around the once flourishing coast of Saurashtra, has left the coast in an ecologically fragile state. The land is being eroded away in places such as Jaffrabad in Amreli district, due to rising sea levels.

    The inhabitants of the region are worried about the lack of a protection wall, while their houses stand dangerously close to the rising sea. Looking at environmental change induced migration from a Socio-Economic Rights point of view, the migrating families in coastal areas in search of livelihood are denied the benefits under the Food Security Act and Right to Education Act.

    Nivasi Shalas are residential schools where the children of migrant workers are provided a safe space to stay back and study while their parents migrate. The Government of Gujarat has sanctioned the construction of Nivasi Shalas a while back, but these have not been established in the coastal areas in Saurashtra. The migrating families need to be provided with roaming ration cards to ensure food security.

    In view of the migration and vulnerability pattern in the coastal areas of Saurashtra, we suggest:
    • Tightening of norms of implementation of the Coastal Regulation Notification, 2011
    • Rigorous monitoring of the implementation of Water Act, 1974, Hazardous Substances Notification, in view of depletion of natural resources
    • Evolution of a legal framework to establish community rights over natural resources.
    • Evolving norms for Critical Vulnerable Coastal Areas
    • Ensuring the safety of communities from rising sea levels, by construction of protection walls based on relevant scientific calculations
    • Land for habitation and necessary facilities such as fish drying yards to be provided where land has been eroded. Land allotment for coastal communities to be included in the National Land Use Plan, National Land Reform Policy, and National Resettlement and Rehabilitation Policy
    • Building disaster resilience of communities including a perspective of local knowledge.
    • From the point of view of Socio-Economic Rights, ensuring Right to Food and Right to Education of migrating families by focussing on construction of Nivasi Shalas and provision of Roaming Ration Cards to the families.



    Ahana Lakshmi, Chennai Tamil Nadu
    This is just to add to the note of Maroti Upare regarding FISHERIES MANAGEMENT FOR SUSTAINABLE LIVELIHOODS (FIMSUL) in Tamil Nadu, that pilot projects are being initiated under FIMSUL II which is now a component of the World Bank’s Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, Coastal Disaster Risk Reduction Project (CDRRP) Project.



    K V Peter, Chennai

    Deva Prasad has flagged the issue so important in the discussion on climate change. Migrants and climate refugees are as real in India as in any developing and least developed countries.

    With forest cover depleting, intrusion into forests increasing and green cover reducing the real occupants of forests, primarily indigenous communities are being displaced and brought to a hostile environment.

    On the other side there is migration for better wages and living conditions to developed economies and urban areas. Here also uneducated labourers are the worst hit. Detailed studies are needed.



    G Nirmala, Hyderabad

    Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA) has taken up a project entitled “National initiative for climate resilient agriculture”. For details on the kind of project, objectives etc. please visit http://www.nicra-icar.org/.

    Some relevant gender issues are discussed in the Current Science journal with regards to climate change (Current Science vol. 103 no.9, 10 November , 2012. pp 987-988) . The commentary is available at: http://www.currentscience.ac.in/Volumes/103/09/0987.pdf .



    Ranjan Panda, Odisha

    We have been working on climate change and migration in Odisha’s drought prone and coastal erosion belts for about two decades now.

    A district in Odisha whose forest resources have vastly depleted and where distress migration is a common feature, this is the only area from where people don’t migrate because of the good quality Kendu leaf and other forest produce. The government should think of reviving the traditional water harvesting structures instead of a large scale project.

    The future provision of water for irrigation and drinking will suffer as industry will encroach on it. This has happened for Hirakud dam and is going to be the case with the Rengali reservoir. Historically, large dam projects have not been able to meet even half of the targeted command area for irrigation. Further details are available at: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/protests-continue-lower-suktel-dam-site

    For this discussion, I am sharing one of my articles published as a cover story in the Terra Green magazine in August 2011. It’s about sad realities of climate refugees. It is available at: http://www.teriin.org/pdf/TG_Aug2011.pdf




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