Caste, Unemployment Amplify Climate-Linked Migration In India
A study highlights lack of a system to address India's increasing migration risk due to climate change.
People from marginalised communities and those without the safety net of a job are more likely to migrate out of areas hit by climate-linked disasters, a new study has shown.
“The most vulnerable people are being hit first and worst by the impacts of climate change," Ritu Bharadwaj, principal researcher at the International Institute of Environment and Development and the lead author of the paper said.
"Those people already living on the margins of society are much more likely to be forced to leave their homes in the aftermath of extreme weather events and find ways to make a living elsewhere, and in turn, that leaves them open to exploitation.”
IIED's study analysed two distinct contexts of climate-related events that drove migration: the slow onset of a drought in Jharkhand, and the rapid onset of floods and cyclone in Odisha.
According to the study, in Palamu, Jharkhand, being from a scheduled caste or scheduled tribe increased the odds of migration by 338% compared to those belonging to the general caste category.
Caste did not have a statistically significant impact in Kendrapara, Odisha, as the community largely belongs to the general category and does not face the same social discrimination, the study noted.
Caste is not the only thing having a bearing on migration though.
In Kendrapara, the study found that losing property or goods due to flooding or cyclone raised the likelihood of migration by 687%, while in Palamu it increased by 172%.
Access to work was another key factor.
Those who had a job card under India's rural jobs guarantee scheme were less likely to migrate out of disaster-hit areas. Getting work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme could reduce the odds of migration by 66% in rapid-onset contexts and 59% in slow-onset contexts, it said.
The study highlights the lack of a comprehensive social protection system to address India's increasing migration risk due to climate change. The country is most vulnerable in South Asia to internal displacements triggered by disasters. It accounts for a fifth of all such displacement in Asia.
While migration can help people cope during a climate crisis, it also exacerbates several other socioeconomic and health risks. It may lead to breaking up of families as the men migrate in search of jobs, while women stay behind overburdened with running the household on their own. Women who migrate also risk being exposed to sexual exploitation, overwork and hard living conditions, the study noted.
Migrants have little bargaining power due to their desperation for work. They have to rely on informal jobs where workplace safety is largely disregarded. They are paid less and often forced to overwork in hazardous conditions, the study said. It also raises the risk of human trafficking, particularly among SC/ST communities.
Problems also emerge for areas that are receiving the influx of migrants as they are inadequately prepared to accommodate them with basic shelter and sanitation facilities. This forces migrants to live in unsanitary conditions raising the risk of disease.
"The challenges faced by migrants are primarily created because social protection programmes and labour market regulations work in siloes," the study said. "They are not designed to address the needs of migrants or consider climate vulnerability in their design framework, both at migration destination and source sites."
Right now, the study points, most policies addressing this are reactive, like providing shelter or temporary relief camps. It calls for a comprehensive system and makes recommendations to support migrant families in all three stages of mobility: before, during and after migration.
"Our research also shows all is not lost," Bharadwaj said. "Providing a social safety net and improving employment opportunities could go a long way to ensure people escaping crop failure, sea-level rise or lack of water are able to lead safe and dignified lives.”