Adapting to climate change: migration, vulnerability and livelihoods in the bengal delta- the search for effective policy options

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Migration is the process by which individuals, singly or collectively, relocate their usual place of residence for another location, based upon an examination of benefits that would accrue to themselves or to their families, or their communities. This is more evident in times of stress and threats to livelihoods. People migrate to cope with disasters, a process that is hard, especially for women.

Scope of Work:

The Government of Bangladesh has emphasized streamlining movements into the national development plans under the Sixth Five Year Plan as well as in the Vision 2021, and the Perspective Plan of Bangladesh. Overall, GoB plans strive to enable all forms of migration with focus on better utilization of human resources and an inclusive agenda. Improved Migration Policy would be aimed at supporting labour migration from hydrometeorological hazard affected areas for enhanced livelihood and improving migrant worker’s employment conditions in semi-rural or urban destinations; providing for reasonable and more efficient labour absorption in growth focii, for creating enabling environment en route for migration, distress episodes as well as planned movements, internally.

Rationally enough, migrants try to minimize risks to their livelihoods, in times of stress or structural inequities (IOM- World Migration report 2012; Rahman 2010; Auerbach et.al., 2015), by movements that would optimize their chances of survival.

Given situations that auger threats to their lives, often, whole families are forced, coerced or involuntarily motivated to shift to safer places. This is different from the voluntary migrants who, being repositories of human capital, can normally calculate their returns from migration. These migrants (endowed with attributes like age, sex and education) often try to optimize returns on their given abilities through higher remuneration or better jobs. Thus, “Migration is a commitment to a way of life in another region, based upon an expectation, arising from a cognition of the existence of benefits in the area of destination” (Begum A., 1999).

In Bangladesh, the funnel-like, wide Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta formed by the mighty rivers, being geo-physically attuned, attracts the often exacerbated torrential Monsoons, cyclones and tidal surges. This delta developed by sediment-laden rivers, is highly sensitive to alteration in the catchment area, the marine environment and sea-level rise (Auerbach et.al., 2015; Islam 2010). It is also prone to droughts and fluvial flooding.

Need and Justification:

The adaptive strategies of poor population occupying this delta, is fraught with problems: the disaster shelters, land-use management, household coping tactics are frequently rendered gender insensitive. Climate change often creates systemic, pervasive or surprise change making household’s coping ability, especially of the women, inadequate – thus failing to increase the resilience of migrant households (Seto 2011; Fusella et.al., 2015).


Study Impacts of hydrometeorological hazard, Cyclone Aila in particular, and associated vulnerabilities, process of migration, adaptive capacities and strategies. What are the influencing factors for deluge- led migration and how does it differ in case of men and women. These factors have to be analyzed – in a context where migration is by now a recognized household coping response to adjust to environmental and economic change. Inadequacy to do so may perpetuate vulnerability in another area with varying impacts on men and women.

Research Questions

i) What are the Impacts of Climate Disaster on Livelihood Patterns in Bangladesh?

ii) Is Migration a Coping Strategy?

Conceptual Framework

Despite the fact of increased threat of the changing nature of the climatic environment with significant implications on various aspects of development and the human nature of migration; the nexus between climate change and migration is rarely understood (Karim, 2018; Jha et al. 2018). One way of understanding the channels is through the conventional way of risk analysis. As our focus in this study is on the complex relationship between climate risk and migration, we will put our sincere effort to explain its connecting channels within the context of our research focus.The primary focus of our model is to consider climatic risks as a function of the following factors:

Risk =f (Hazard, Exposure, Vulnerability)

In this study, we are going to define risk as climatic risks and our primary approach to understand the climate-migration relationship is through vulnerability to livelihoods. Hazard, by definition, is a country’s pre-determined geo-physical and climatic characteristics where our characterization will be on climate-induced natural disasters particularly cyclones and storm surges. Exposure is largely driven by poverty forcing people to live in more unsafe conditions such as flood plains. In the above functional form, vulnerability to livelihood indicates climatic risks not only depend on the severity of disasters or exposure of assets and livelihood but also on the exposed population’s resilience to reduce and adapt with the increasing pattern of hazard impacts.Moreover, because of vulnerability’s multi-faceted and dynamistic nature and considering climate-induced disaster risks not as an equal opportunity threat, our added focus in this study will be to understand the gendered impacts of climate-induced disasters particularly on women. Flato et al. (2017) show evidence on how female-headed households in South Africa are differentially affected by relatively modest levels of variation in rainfall on a yearly basis.The authors’ particularly identified households headed by widows, never-married women, and women with a non-resident spouse (e.g., “left-behind” migrant households) as vulnerable groups.

Empirical Methodology

Since we are interested in examining the climate-livelihood vulnerability-migration relationship; firstly, the impact of climatic disasters on livelihood and migration outcomeswill be estimated using the most parsimonious (OLS) specification:

Yij = α + βj + β1Dij + β2 Xij+ εij                                                               (1)

whereYijrepresents the outcome variables for household (i) in district (j) (i.e. income, expenditure, asset, labor market outcomes, rural-urban migration, remittance from internal migration), β1indicates the coefficient for disaster affected people, Xijdenotes the control variables indicating households socio-economic characteristics and infrastructural features  (i.e. rural, female-headed households, average age, dependent, proportion of formal education, land and house ownership, access to sanitation, safe drinking water and electricity), βjindicatesdistrict fixed effectand εijindicates the error term. We will use robust standard error clustered by village for our hypothesis tests.

Secondly, to identify whether migration is recognized as a household coping response mechanism to climatic disasters, we will estimate the following probit model:

Mij [1,0] = α + βj + β1Dij + β2 Xij+ εij           (2)

Where the dependent variable, Mij= 1, if household considers  migration as an adaptation strategy; 0 otherwise. The RHS variables remain predetermined as in equation 1.

Moreover, a Qualitative Component will include the following:

Firstly, a Reconnaissance survey for identification of HHs; in destination; Piloting with short questionnaire and follow-up that will inform the Scoping Study, beginning in the month of August 2018 to  continue into 2019 ;

Secondly, Questionnaire survey of families who had migrated, as many as feasible; and Case Studies of HH head of migrant families;

A Snowball Sampling Method drawing upon a number of non-migrant households (affected by Cyclone Aila) from the origin villages in the affected areas will be surveyed, using survey questionnaire;

In-depth case studies of migrant families and non-migrant families (number will be determined by availability and objectives of the study);

Desk-top review of published and unpublished  material, also official information will be used for compilation of the secondary information.


Theme: Migration and Gender: Vulnerability in Human Development

About BIDS

The Bangladesh Unnayan Gobeshona Protishthan or The Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) is an autonomous public multi-disciplinary organization which conducts policy oriented research on development issues facing Bangladesh and other developing countries. 

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