A rise in extreme weather events in India — from droughts and floods to heat waves and hailstorms — is fueling climate migration as the nation’s poorest people are forced to abandon their homes, land and livelihoods, researchers said yesterday.
In a survey of more than 1,000 households across three Indian states, nearly 70 percent of respondents said they migrated immediately after such weather disasters occurred, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) said.
Seasonal migration was high among people affected by droughts and floods that damaged crops, or by cyclones that hampered fishing, according to the study, one of the first to quantify the impacts of climate change on migration in India.
Many of India’s poorest people — such as small farmers — are finding it harder to cope with the damage caused by severe weather as the nation braces for rising sea levels, more heat waves and fiercer cyclones, researchers said.
“The scale of climate migration is startling,” said Ritu Bharadwaj, a senior researcher at IIED and coauthor of the report. “We cannot afford to pretend this isn’t happening. Droughts, rising sea levels and flooding are heaping extra pressure onto people who are already struggling to get by, forcing them from their homes in order to survive.”
This year’s Global Climate Risk Index puts India in the top 10 nations most affected by climate change.
Last year alone, India suffered its worst locust attack in decades, three cyclones, a nationwide heat wave, and flooding that killed hundreds of people and forced thousands more to migrate.
“The limits to people’s resilience have been breached by more frequent and intense weather,” Bharadwaj said. “Communities are not able to cope and recover easily. The loss and damage they suffer is very high, and they migrate because they have reached the stage of hopelessness.”
India’s first climate change assessment report, published last year, forecast that temperatures would rise 4.4°C by the end of the century in a “business as usual” scenario.
The frequency of heat waves would be up to four times higher, cyclone intensity would increase and sea levels would rise by 30cm if action is not taken, the report said.
Researchers at the IIED interviewed people from Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan states, where seasonal migration is prevalent.
Many leave home when there is little work in farming or fishing to find jobs on construction sites or in cotton fields in Maharashtra, Gujarat and New Delhi.
More than 70 percent of households said droughts were happening significantly more often in the past five to 10 years, leading to an increase in so-called distress migration, when people feel they have no other option to survive.
“We need to plan for the hundreds of millions of people who it is predicted will have to migrate in the coming decades due to climate change,” Bharadwaj said.
Making migration safe for people forced to move by climate pressures should involve “anticipatory wage employment” and portability of social protection entitlements, the IIED said.
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