Are India’s Cities Prepared To Manage Climate Migrants?

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Lights, camera, action! Political declarations signed. Economic measures analysed. Technological innovations shared. And we just move on. Isn’t this the gist of every climate forum?

I pray to the lord that UNCCD’s COP14 turns out to be somewhat different than its previous meetings. Please, let it be different and concrete. Please make it end on a solution-oriented note.

For many decades, nations all over the world have been busy in merely organizing climate forums to address the disastrous effects of climate change phenomenon, but time and experience have shown how hollow and scattered our efforts have been. And the simple reason for the ineffectiveness of climate policies is that they don’t take into account people and their real problems. That real problem is the issue of climate migrants.

Even the pompously lauded Paris Agreement of 2015 was very ambitious in its commitment but still didn’t carry any mention of climate refugees. Why is there still no mention of climate refugees in any international law?

What Is The Climate Migrant Issue?

Climate migrants are those people who move out from their respective homelands due to the disastrous effects of climate change. According to the data provided by UNHCR, in 2018 alone, weather-related events such as droughts in Afghanistan, tropical Cyclone Gita in Samoa, and flooding in the Philippines, resulted in a massive loss of lives and property. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, there were around 18.8 million new disaster-related internal displacements registered in 2017.

Such is the staggering amount of climate migrants in today’s times. The whole of island nations and low-lying countries are on the verge of facing extinction due to the climate crisis. Their vulnerability further gets increased with the low resource base of their governments to cope up with the disasters.

Now, if we come to India-specific cases, we can see that even after our situation is not yet as perilous as the other parts of the world, our nation is still feeling its share of the climate burden. In this regard, the issue of climate migrants in India has yet not taken centre-stage but it still needs our resourceful attention if we want to act in a pro-active manner.

Flood affected villagers using banana raft to travel as the flood situation is deteriorating at Bongkuwal Village in Golaghat, near Guwahati. (Photo by Rajib Jyoti Sarma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

What Does Indian Data Say?

The data for climate migrants in India presents somewhat a less grim picture, not matching ground reality. The 64th round of NSSO report (2007-08) titled Migration in India, identified natural disasters including floods and droughts as one of the major reasons for migration. The figures were although as low as 13 per 1,000 migrant households reporting natural disasters as the reason for migration, it is easy to presume that the reality does not conform to these standards.

It’s safe to assume that the mentioned figures will rise in the coming future. And if that happens, we need to answer the following questions.

How Prepared Are Indian Cities For Adjusting Climate Migrants?

As we know, our Indian cities are generally marked by the absence of proper infrastructure and lack of social sector facilities. It is not rocket science to understand that the carrying capacity of our cities is very poor. According to the 2011 Census, less than 70.6% of urban households were covered by individual connections of water supply. It has also been reported that over 17% of the urban population lived in slums.

Slums are a rising menace in the cities these days as the littering waste and poor sanitation around them creates a ground for breeding numerous diseases. This has already burdened the existing cities with the present population ratio in their vicinity. Addition of more people to the already crowded cities will not only affect the quality of city life, but it will also leave very fewer opportunities for the new immigrants. In such a case, the new entrants will either have to do menial unskilled jobs or live off the crumbs of the affluent population.

Artwork by author.

Then, there is the issue of security in the city area. Increasing crimes against women and other heinous crimes have somewhat hinted at the increasing problem because of the growing pace of migration. The problem of house shortage in urban areas is also a major threat to the sustainability of cities. The Kundu Committee set up by the Indian government pointed out that today’s Indian cities fall short of 19 million household units to meet the demands of the ever-growing population. What will happen if 50% of the population will move to cities someday? How will we tackle that?

The situation sounds grim but I believe that can be improved if the concerned authorities take up the required actions in a time-bound manner. First of all, the basic reform has to start by addressing the category of climate migrants in the demographic data. Then, the adequate provisions for their protection should be brought out in clearly defined legislative format.

Now, to deal with on-ground preparations, infrastructural facilities should be upgraded to include low-cost housing solutions for those in need. The supply of clean drinking water, basic amenities like electricity and food packets should be made available at the government booths at a subsidized rate.

On an ending note, my personal suggestion would be that the government start listing natural disasters on their manifesto as a priority agenda. Political parties and business organizations can come up with a synergetic policy like CSR to promote environmental responsibility and rehabilitation. This will go a long way to deal with the crisis we are heading into. Cities should also be envisaged as a sustainable model of growth engine than just an economic dynamic engine for development.

If things go fine and we start preparing now, I think we will be able to combat the climate crisis! But, we need to act now. We need to make our cities sustainable.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Arijit Sen/Hindustan Times via Getty Images.
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