Let them stay in their places!
The intensity of extreme environmental events like floods, storms, droughts, landslides and other hazards have compelled millions of people to be displaced worldwide, especially in the coastal regions (IDMC 2020). Thus, maintaining livelihood in those places has become challenging, and people are slowly moving towards the cities. For instance, in 2018, the World Bank estimated that Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia would generate 143 million more climate migrants by 2050. Various studies have precisely described 'migration of people as one of the key ways to avoid the adverse effects dire climate change'. However, is migration not very dangerous for people? Doesn't it make sense to understand non-migration as 'more beneficial' for them, who have to migrate? Even if migration is ancient, it is still really hard on the people, and therefore, the future adaptation strategies need to be planned to promote non-migration.
Let us have a look at the people who are struggling with climate change-induced challenges every day. Many sufferers all over the world do not want to move despite immense risks imposed on their livelihoods. Now we talk about an interview conducted in 2016 during the field study in southwest coastal Bangladesh. Mr. Rokon Morol, a 35- year- old fisherman of Gabura village of Satkhira, explained his desires to remain in his birthplace despite higher risks. He said, "Since I was born here, I am living with floods, coping with cyclones, and fighting with hunger-where should I go? Migration is not a solution for my family members and me. I do not know where I should go. However, if I live here, I can go to the Sundarbans, catch fish and sell them in markets, and provide meals for my family, if not three meals but one meal per day. I do not want to go."This explains what types of challenges and choices he has to compel with the constraints of the livelihood.
People living in a society and they help each other during anyone's emergency. Like, Mr. Rokon added the importance of the neighbours and social networks that motivates him to stay. For instance, he said, "even if I face a problem here, I can get support from my neighbours. But who will help me in the city?" However, the challenges are everywhere, and the upcoming challenges at his place do not encourage him to migrate, as he explained, "I know that outsiders have been spreading rumours in our locality by spreading fear that in a few year time our locality will be wiped out by going underwater. My father also knew this same story, but you see; still, now we are living here and are not inundated. So I do not believe that we must migrate from here. Rather I can build durable houses here that will not break down during future cyclone". So, there exists a misconception about the perception and assessments of the risk that continues over generations. Because the responses to risks differ individually, most people keep continuing to stay, where their attachment to the place is a matter of fact that discourages them from migrating. Like Mr. Rokon said, "Some of our financially sound people have already sold some of their lands here and bought houses in another place. But I would like to die at my birthplace. You know, when I smell the mud of my home, I forget all my melancholy".
The tale of Mr. Rokon Mondal that is narrated here is not only a representation of an isolated case in Bangladesh, but millions living in coastal regions across the globe. This trend explains why only 3 percent of the world's population are international migrants (World Bank, 2018), but this remains a very general statement between the migrants and non-migrants. A significant distinction between voluntary non-migrants and migrants happens for various reasons - one of the reasons may well be to not get out from one's comfort zone. Thus, it is an individual choice of life that matters. Based on the individual's aspiration in the face of climate risks, the migration decisions can be organized into two groups: voluntary and involuntary.
Nevertheless, the capability of realisation of such aspiration intensifies the scale of voluntarism, for instance, an individual aspires to migrate but has not the capability to migrate, and therefore the individual stays as a 'trapped' non-migrant. Alternatively, an individual aspires to stay but cannot do so, and then the individual migrates as a 'forced' migrant. However, the number of both forced and trapped people is negligible compare to the number of stayers. For example, the Honourable Prime Minister of the People's Republic of Bangladesh, Ms. Sheikh Hasina mentioned in her speech at UN General Assembly on 11th October 2009 that one in every seven people living in coastal Bangladesh will migrate by 2050 because of climate change. Though her speech indicates a considerable number, almost 500,000 people from coastal Bangladesh will migrate shortly, but if we see it in other ways that six of every seven people will stay at their place despite incremental climate risks. Shouldn't we emphasize integrating those stayers into the future development initiatives, in parallel with giving priority attention to those forced-migrants and trapped non-migrants? It brings us to discuss more voluntary non-migrants and how they stay in their places.
First, it is essential to extend the current understanding of 'voluntary non-migration'. It is not so straight forward and conclusive that voluntary non-migration in the face of climate risks is easily explainable; instead, there is an urgent need to uncover climate-risk related non-migration as a neglected field with high relevance debates on climate-induced migration and displacement, social equality, human rights and development.
Second, the policies and plans should consider the importance of community development in a way that promotes and ensures individual-level preferences. This can be performed by introducing and promoting local-led adaptation strategies, like encouraging community entrepreneurship, improving institutional and infrastructural support services, ensuring good governance and livelihood securities, and strengthening community trusts and networks.
After all, the linkages amongst population growth, natural resources and climate change are apparent. Therefore, future programmes and plans, such as the upcoming implementation of Delta Development Plan 2100 should consider a multilateral strategy or a legal framework to support voluntary non-migrants.
Finally, under growing threats of climate-induced disasters, it is time to inform and educate the vulnerable communities in coastal regions. Instead of instilling fear and forcing them to migrate, they must be provided with practical information on global warming, potential risks, and climate change threats. It will help them decide on staying or migrating based on their everyday experiences, including social and cultural embedding, and the ability to see and take on livelihood opportunities at their place of origin or outsides.
Bishawjit Mallick is currently a Marie
Sklodowska-Curie Global Fellow at the Institute of Behavioural Science (IBS) at University of Colorado Boulder, USA and holds a researcher position at Chair of Environmental Development and Risk Management at TU