Increasing Climate Migration due to Assam Floods

- by Tanya Mittal

Issue of Climate Migrants : An aspect that we often overlook, is rehabilitaion of displaced persons. 

Climate change experts at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization have said that catastrophic floods like the one this year has wide-ranging impacts, from farmers losing their crops and being trapped in a cycle of debt to children not being able to go to school and at increased risk to disease. The event that made headlines was the deadly flood in Assam. Most people focused on the humanitarian consequences, not the supply chain. Certainly, the humanitarian aspect is most critical. The world may watch such a disaster and feel compassion for the people of Assam, but they may not realize that they are affected by the crisis too, albeit economically. Hence, here are few other dimensions to the matter that we at Swechha wish to share with you. 

  • Climate catastrophic events are among the leading drivers of human mobility especially in North and North Eastern parts of India. Yet, lawful pathways for those who move across international borders in this context remain limited, and often uncertain. 
  • At the global level, a number of key frameworks provide important guidance on how to address displacement and migration in the context of disasters and climate change. 
  • These include: the Nansen Initiative Protection Agenda, the Paris Agreement and Sendai Framework, Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, Global Compacts for Refugees and relevant international refugee and human rights law frameworks.
  • These are complemented at the regional level by a range of regional and sub-regional frameworks relating to human rights, refugee protection, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and the free movement of persons between states. Collectively, these frameworks provide a valuable background and opportunity to promote and advance research, evidence and regional engagement on disaster and climate change-related human mobility. 
  • Clearly, deliberate efforts are being made to provide recognition to climate induced migrants/refugees in the 1951 Refugee Convention. The instability of the status of the climate- induced displaced people until now and no access to financial grants, food aids, shelter, education, social identity, makes this a deep rooted problem!

Why are Assam Floods getting worse?

It’s given that Assam and entire Northeast India is a flood-prone zone due to their geographical and topographical region making it one of the highest rainfall zones in the world. Additionally, Assam, the Gateway of North East India, is crisscrossed by a number of major rivers originating from lower Himalayan ranges and debouching into the plains causing flash floods in the flood plains of Assam and neighbouring states.

Several train services were canceled in India amid the incessant downpour through the months of Assam Floods, mainly June and July. In southern Assam’s Haflong town, the railway station was underwater and flooded rivers deposited mud and silt along the rail tracks.

What’s the Bangladesh Climate Migration problem which is making this issue twice as a complex?

Last month, a pre-monsoon flash flood, triggered by a rush of water from upstream in India’s northeastern states, hit Bangladesh’s northern and northeastern regions, destroying crops and damaging homes and roads. The country was just starting to recover when fresh rains flooded the same areas again, just in the last week of July.

Bangladesh, a nation of 160 million people, is low-lying and faces threats from natural disasters such as floods and cyclones, made worse by climate change. According to the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, about 17% of people in Bangladesh would need to be relocated over the next decade or so if global warming persists at the present rate.

The vast scale of climate displacement, coupled with the lack of legal framework, calls for innovative techniques to mitigate the plight of climate migrants. India and Bangladesh need to adopt a regional approach to- combat climate change, manage migration and analyse conflict dynamics. At a policy level, a participatory approach to address the wide-reaching impacts of climate change is the need of the hour. Integrating diplomatic, development, humanitarian, and security tools in a multivector approach with investment in climate mitigation would be crucial. This would be the first step in building the capacities needed to effectively address the myriad risks that climate change poses. We have to keep in mind that this climate-induced migration will continue to happen. 

The sooner we acknowledge the inevitability of this movement, the sooner we will be able to cope with it. It is the call of the hour to consider the issue in multi-dimensions and work on the innovative management techniques in order to tackle the issue from its roots.