Migration Narratives: The SHRAM Blog

Climate Induced Internal Migration in India: Emerging Challenges

Among the many impacts of climate change, large scale displacement of people from slow onset and rapid onset disasters both at national and international scale have received increasing attention in the rubric of climate refugee discourse. India is no exception to the increasing impacts of climate change as one of the highly vulnerable country in the world. However, increasing number of climate related disasters are changing the usual scenario of internal migration in India.

India is a country with various socio climatic conditions with a large number of people depending on agriculture.

Migration is already a response to changing environmental conditions in many parts of India in rural and urban areas.

For last many decades people are migrating from rural to urban areas for livelihood and higher incomes. However, climate change is likely to contribute to displacement rather than seasonal migration in India. Displacement is the forced or obliged movement, evacuation or relocation of individuals or groups of people from their homes or places of habitual residence in order to avoid the threat or impact of a disaster. Climate change might result in two types of displacement and migration in India. First, increased migration is likely within India due to the effects of climate change such as drought, desertification, sea level rise, water scarcity and low food productivity, and melting glaciers. Second, climate change might lead to increased flow of migrants from neighboring countries due to the accelerated effects of climate change.

Environmental change (along with economic, political and social factors) has long been identified as a driver of migration

. However, the influence of environmental change on human migration has largely been ignored by the standard theories of migration. In recent years the growing concern over climate change has ignited the debate on climate migration and its implications. Despite many numerical predictions on the number of people who might be displaced or have already displaced, the empirical basis of the research remains weak at the national level. Important constraints arise due to lack of data on migration leading to difficulty establishing the mono-causality between climate change and migration, due to the complex mechanisms that induce migration.

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre around 3,655,000 were displaced due to disasters in India in 2015. In 1998 described as super El Nino year, due to floods eight million people were displaced in India due to floods across 12 northern states. Further, multiple and repeated displacements in the same parts India point to areas of particularly high exposure and vulnerability. India experiences high levels of displacement along its east coast, where communities are exposed to tropical storms from the Bay of Bengal, and in the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Yamuna river basins in the north and north-east of the country. In September, the worst floods to hit Jammu and Kashmir in 50 years displaced around 812,000 people in urban areas of the state.

Apart from floods and cyclones slow onset disaster such as drought is also a major reason for displacement in India and might intensify in future due to climate change and desertification. Climate change is expected to increase the severity of drought especially in western India, about one-fourth of the area of Gujarat and 60% of the area of Rajasthan are likely to experience acute physical water-scarce conditions. The river basins of Mahi, Pennar, Sabarmati and Tapi are likely to experience constant water scarcities and shortage (NATCOM 2004). Climate change is expected to increase the drought in semi-arid peninsular India and western India, leading to further immiserisation of the landless and small and marginal farmers, who are typically forced to migrate more often to cities.

A large part of the coastal regions of India are at risk of accelerated sea level rise, intensification of cyclones, and larger storm surges. Increasing adverse effects of climate change along the Indian coasts may induce many people to migrate from the low lying and risky areas. India was estimated to have the second-largest population located in the low elevation coastal zone of 63 million and seventh in terms of area, i e, 82,000 square km. The Indian region is densely populated, stretches over 7,500 km and is inhabited by more than a 100 million people in nine coastal states (NATCOM 2004: 108).

Recent observation suggests that the sea level has risen 2.5 mm per year since the 1950s along the Indian coast.

Further, it is expected to be between 15 cm and 38 cm by the middle of this century and between 46 cm and 59 cm by the end of the century. A one-metre sea level rise is projected to displace approximately 7.1 million people in India, and about 5,764 sq km of land area will be lost, along with 4,200 km of roads (NATCOM 2004: 114). Several cases of displacement due to climate change have been reported in recent years. For example, The Telegraph (2006) reported that submergence of the Lohachara Island in India’s Sundarban has led people to move to the nearby Sagar Island. Recently in the Mahanadi delta, the state government of Odisha is resettling 571 families due to severe coastal erosion in the Kendrapada district. Over the years many villages have lost their land to the sea.  Approximately 32% of India’s coastal area will be at risk of inundation with sea level rise and intensified storm surges along with an additional  76,40,416 people at risk of storm surge and sea level rise.

Although, internal displacement is an emerging issue  in the context of Climate change, Indian polices have hardly moved beyond disaster management and relief activities. The State Action Plan on Adaptation in various states have hardly addressed the issue of internal displacement in India, nor there is any comprehensive laws at national level to consider the safety and rights of internally displaced people due to climate related disasters.


Architesh Panda

Architesh Panda

Architesh Panda is climate change and agriculture specialist working with International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) based in Vientiane, Lao PDR. He has a PhD in economics and works in the area of climate change adaptation, environmental migrants and climate change in economics in South and South-East Asian countries.
Architesh Panda

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