Climate change and potential impacts on migration

There are at least four different ways in which changing climatic conditions can have a significant impact on population movements within South Asia. These are:

  • “The intensification of natural disasters, both sudden and slow-onset, leading to increased displacement and migration;
  • the adverse consequences of […] climate change on livelihoods, public health, food security, and water availability;
  • rising sea levels that make coastal areas uninhabitable;
  • competition over scarce natural resources potentially leading to growing tensions and even conflict and, in turn, displacement” (Walsham 2010).

Many factors prompt migrants to move internally and across international borders, including, among them, environmental changes, such as desertification, droughts, sea level rise and disturbance of seasonal weather patterns, which can be the result of El Niño and La Niña.2 In response to this, increasing numbers of countries in the subregion have taken an interest in better understanding the potential economic and social ramification of climate change with regard to development policy, emergency preparedness and response, human security and urban and land-use planning.

The critical role local communities have in managing environmental migration, both in places of origin as well as in areas of destination, must be emphasized. This chapter will look at some of the adaptation techniques adopted which seek to mitigate the impact of climate change as well as some of the support mechanisms (or lack thereof) created for environmental migrants, particularly within the context of rural to urban migration.


2 El Niño, warming, and La Niña, cooling, are episodic events that affect the Pacific Ocean and, at their extreme, disrupt weather patterns globally.