Environmental Migration in Bangladesh

Bangladesh has long been a country of movement. There are as many reasons for migrating as there are people, but the first thing a migrant will typically tell you is that he or she moved for better economic opportunities. Bangladesh has also always been a country of dangerous weather, and, as climate change becomes a bigger problem, this is increasingly felt by the poor. The poor are both the most vulnerable and the most exposed to bad weather, since they often have little choice but to live in the least protected areas. In the southern Bhola District, the poorest are typically the ones living the closest to the river – simply because land is cheaper there. Consequently, the poor are also the ones being hit the hardest by river bank erosion. Last month, I visited a village where I was told that, only five years ago, the land stretched 10 KM into the river. Now there is almost no fertile land left in the village. Many farmers have become fishermen. Families that were able to collect enough money for a ticket have left for alternative livelihoods in cities like Dhaka and Chittagong. The ones who lost absolutely everything now live on the embankment, which is also eroding little by little, day by day. 

What I experienced several times when speaking to people in Bhola was that they talked about moving as the saddest thing that could possible happen to them. At the same time, when they talked about people who had moved , they referred to them as the “ones being able to do so – the ones with the money” in a voice that seemed like migration was something to be envied. This shows how migration, although almost always about income opportunities, is also an emotional decision. This is often overlooked and needs to be taken into consideration when we weight the advantages and disadvantages of migration.

Written by: Kathinka Evertsen, Visiting Researcher, ICCCAD October Newsletter 2014