Managing coastal out-migration in Bangladesh

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Coastal communities in Bangladesh are environmentally-stressed leading to increased migration to neighboring regions and countries. Photo Courtesy: World Bank
Coastal communities in Bangladesh are environmentally-stressed leading to increased migration to neighboring regions and countries. Photo Courtesy: World Bank

Worldwide sea levels will continue rising beyond 2100, even if greenhouse gas emissions are halted today. The current scientific consensus projects at least a one-meter-rise this century. New evidence on ice-cliff instability in the Antarctic suggests that a three-meter increase is possible.

Bangladesh’s low and flat topography makes its coastal area particularly susceptible to rising sea threats.   The country’s low-lying areas are home to thousands of poor households, making them more vulnerable to cyclones, tidal inundation, and salinization.

Studies show that for a 1-meter of sea-level rise, about 1.5 million coastal people will be displaced. The number of displaced- people will rise to 2.8 million in case of a 2-meter rise, and to 5.4 million in the event of a 3-meter rise.  Salinity in water will increase, and so will the intensity and frequency of storms and tidal surges.

Poverty is already higher in the southern coastal zone, especially in and around the Sunderbans. The changing climate has forced working-age adults to move out to seek opportunities elsewhere, often leaving behind children and elderly caregivers.   

The critical zone for outmigration lies in low-lying areas within 4 km of the coast, where inundation and destruction from cyclone strikes are recurrent and progressive salinization of water and soil is most pronounced.  

Since the migrants have very low skills to start with, the time needed for migrant family members to save sufficient funds to send remittances home can be significant. They face a far greater likelihood of extreme poverty  than in less-threatened areas.

Climate migration can bring economic opportunities but also has its challenges, including an adverse effect on poverty if not properly managed. 

The changing climate has forced working-age adults to move out to seek opportunities elsewhere, often leaving behind children and elderly caregivers

Financial interdependency after migration  

To understand the financial consequences of outmigration, we surveyed migrants from coastal Bangladesh currently residing in both Bangladesh and nearby parts of India. We probed to find out the extent of financial interdependency of migrants with their native households.  

Income and size of households are key factors: interdependency increases significantly with migrants’ incomes and decreases with the size of their own households. To our surprise, education and time elapsed since migration do not affect interdependency. Whether a migrant left home 10 years ago or 10 months ago, they are both equally willing to share their incomes with the family they left behind. 

The effect of transboundary migration also had a huge difference:  For the smallest household size and highest income group, financial interdependence is 99.8 percent for migrants who remained within Bangladesh , but only 23.4 percent for migrants who crossed into the Indian Sundarbans.  For the largest household size and lowest income group, corresponding probabilities are 93.7 percent and 0.9  percent.

The destination matters

Remittance has  remained an integral part of Bangladesh’s development and growth. Most remittances are from the Middle East, followed by Singapore, Malaysia, the USA, and the UK. Lower-skill migrants in Sundarbans cross the border to neighboring Indian Sundarbans, where language, culture and custom are similar, while higher-skill migrants find better opportunities in more distant and affluent areas. 

Whether a migrant left home 10 years ago or 10 months ago, they are both equally willing to share their incomes with the family they left behind

Bangladesh coastal community
Public programs could help non-migrants invest in eco-friendly livelihoods such as community-based fisheries management and nature-based tourism. Photo courtesy: World Bank

Skills development for migrants is key to poverty reduction

As the money sent by the migrants can lift their families and communities out of poverty, increased public investment is needed to help the working-age people realize their earning potential . For “climate-smart” sustainable development and poverty reduction, it will be important to reduce the vulnerability of the coastal population.  Government support for training and skills development is critical.  

Public programs also could help with job-placement services, and loans for relocation expenses, and other paperwork. Programs could include textile factory work, commercial driving, auto repair, and computer maintenance, and also include training for women.

To help aspiring migrants find better jobs overseas, public programs could include training in host-country languages and relevant skills for high-demand sectors such as construction, food services, and manufacturing.   

Hundreds of millions of coastal communities around the world are on the frontline of climate change.  Since climate change will likely exacerbate poverty and amplify inequality, learning from this research will help not only key policy-makers in other coastal regions, but also the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in understanding livelihood impacts, climate vulnerability, and adaptations.

To learn more about ecosystem impacts, shifting livelihoods, and adaptation options in a changing climate in Bangladesh, we invite you to read our new World Bank research: Coping with Climate Change in the Sundarbans.

As the money sent by the migrants can lift their families and communities out of poverty, increased public investment is needed to help the working-age people realize their earning potential

Authors

Susmita Dasgupta

Lead Environmental Economist, Development Research Goup, World Bank

David Wheeler

Senior Fellow Emeritus

Mainul Huq

Economist, Consultant

Utpal Roy

Associate Professor

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DILIP RATHA
February 25, 2021

Great blog! Thank you! It'd be great to have similar analysis for other countries, especially small island nations. Indeed, also for richer nations with large coastlines.