Climate Change has begun displaying its catastrophic self to the world. The rising sea levels, irregularity of seasons, and increase in the number of natural disasters are some of the large-scale consequences causing havoc in various vulnerable regions of the world. However, in recent times, Climate Change has also branched out its adverse effects across the environmental domain and has forced people to transmute into ‘Climate Refugees’.
‘Climate Refugees’ could be simply defined as the large-scale migration of people due to the environmental reason of climate change. And one of the regions which are witnessing a significant number of climate refugees is Bangladesh.
Although Bangladesh has found itself gripped by immense internal migration, destructive climate disasters have further exacerbated the situation. As of 2019, 4.1 million people have been displaced in Bangladesh due to climate-induced disasters according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Moreover, by 2050, it is predicted that 19.9 million people would become Internal Climate Refugees in Bangladesh as per the World Bank.
Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, is majorly bearing the pressure of internal migration. It is the result of such migration, that Dhaka is becoming highly overpopulated accompanied by its issues. However, it is in such a daunting situation, that a ray of hope has emanated in the form of Mongla, a climate-resilient town.
In order to effectively address the issue, Prof. Saleemul Huq, Director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development, envisioned a solution in the form of ‘transformative adaptation’ which basically aims to divert people to small urban centers, whilst ensuring their long-term economic sustainability. For the same, several potential migrant-friendly locations were identified amongst which Mongla looked like the most promising option.
What made Mongla, a river town, the best alternative to welcome climate refugees lies in the efforts put forward by their mayor in 2011-2021, Zulfikar Ali. The infrastructural developments such as raised embankments, flood-control gates, improved drainage systems, large reservoirs, and a freshwater treatment plant have made the town a model of climate resilience. Proximity to the second largest port in Bangladesh and an Export Processing Zone further made the town an economically viable option along with the support of educational institutions.
However, according to Huq, there still exists challenges revolving around “softer interventions” or the requirement of social and cultural changes to be induced in the town for a smoother integration of residents and migrants. As per Huq, “Hostility between host and migrant happens everywhere. In Bangladesh, we have several big advantages – one is that we look the same so migrants are not distinguishable; second, there is one language – we all speak Bangla; and third, we all have the same religion. What we do have is a class barrier, so the newcomer is a poor person eking out a living – and that is what we are working on, humanizing what is initially seen as ‘other’.”
With Bangladesh Government’s investment in developing further infrastructure in the town and seaport, increasing Foreign Investments at the Export Processing Zone has also considerably contributed to generating innumerable employment opportunities and hence ensuring an economically sustainable future for the migrants residing in the town.
With nearly 150,000 people living in the town, Mongla is the first town to implement ICCCAD’s recommendations. Further, plans include replicating the success of Mongla in other potential migrant-welcoming coastal towns which could shelter around half a million climate migrants each over the course of the next 10 years. Moreover, outposts will also be set up in coastal towns and villages which could act as ‘mini-embassies’ being information hubs and direct climate migrants towards host towns that are better equipped to ‘welcome’ them and where they can be fully-fledged citizens instead of reaching overpopulated cities like Dhaka.
A balance of sustainability and growth in Mongla is still a subject to strive for. Nonetheless, along with its limitations, the unique case of Mongla has proven to be an unequivocal success against the dangerous implications of Climate Change. Considering a prospective direct solution to address the issue, the model of Mongla has provided relief till now. It also advocates a similar set of steps required to be endeavored by global policy leaders to address the issue. Lastly, in the model of Mongla, a glimmering hope could be observed in the imminent darkness of catastrophic Climate Change.
Feisal Rahman and Laura Kuhl, “Putting Mongla on the Map: The Curious Case of a Coastal Secondary City’s Transformation”, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, April 22, 2021.
Isabel Choat and Kaamil Ahmed, “Port in a storm: the trailblazing town welcoming climate refugees in Bangladesh”, The Guardian, January 24, 2022.
Julhus Alam, “For Climate Migrants, Bangladesh Offers Promising Alternatives”, The Diplomat, March 30, 2022.
Jamie Watts, “The town welcoming and resettling climate refugees in Bangladesh”, Thred, January 24, 2022