Bangladesh – Climate Displacement


Bangladesh – Climate Displacement

Few countries are under as much threat from climate change as Bangladesh. DS is working with our partners in Bangladesh Young Power in Social Action to find viable housing, land and property solutions to those displaced by climate change.

Activities of the Initiative


DS report on Climate Displacement in Bangladesh: The Need for Urgent Housing, Land and Property Rights Solutions, May 2012

Displacement Solutions has recently published a ground-breaking new report on climate displacement in Bangladesh.

This 36-page report comprehensively examines the scope and causes of climate displacement across Bangladesh. Drawing on extensive fieldwork, the report highlights that climate displacement is not just a phenomenon to be addressed at some point in the future, it is a crisis that is unfolding across Bangladesh now. Sea-level rise and tropical cyclones in coastal areas, as well as flooding and riverbank erosion in mainland areas, are already resulting in the loss of homes, land and property and leading to mass displacement. Further, all of the natural hazards that are causing displacement are expected to increase in both frequency and intensity as a result of climate change – almost inevitably leading to the displacement of many millions more across Bangladesh.

This report comprehensively examines current and future causes of climate displacement in Bangladesh. The report also examines existing and proposed Government and civil society policies and programmes intended to provide solutions to climate displacement. The report highlights a number of protection gaps in the response of both the Government of Bangladesh and the international community to the plight of climate displaced persons. The report emphasises that rights-based solutions, in particular, housing, land and property rights solutions must be utilised as the basis for solving this crisis.

The report concludes by proposing a number of concrete recommendations that could be utilized to provide solutions to climate displacement.

The report can be downloaded here.

New article on “The Management of Climate Displacement”, written by Scott Leckie, the Director of Displacement Solutions, in the December 2012 issue of Forced Migration Review.

In his article, Scott Leckie concludes that “climate change has forced those who care about displacement into the unfamiliar position of seeking solutions before displacement occurs: in effect, becoming land seekers for future displaced communities and active advocates for resettlement when remaining in place fails to be a viable option“. 

The article is available here.

Article on “Domestic Land Solutions for Bangladesh” published in May 2012 on the New Internationalist Blog.

Read Scott Leckie and Ezekiel Simperingham’s recent observational piece on the climate displacement situation in Bangladesh, published by a highly acclaimed independent monthly not-for-profit magazine/blog that reports on actions in support of global justice. The New Internationalist believes in putting people before profit, in climate justice, tax justice, equality, social responsibility and human rights for all, views shared by Displacement Solutions. To access it, click here.

DS Photo Booklet on Climate Displacement in Bangladesh, Kadir van Lohuizen Photography, April 2011

In January 2011, a team from Displacement Solutions visited Khulna District in Bangladesh – the ground zero of climate change. DS and its partners the Association for Climate Refugees visited some of the world’s most destitute locations affected by large-scale climate-induced displacement in the world today. Climate Displacement in Bangladesh, catalogues images captured by world renowned photo journalist Kadir Van Lohuizen during the DS mission to the southwestern delta region of Bangladesh.

This publication is available to download here.

The people pictured in the booklet are just some of the 6.5 million who have already been displaced by climate change in Bangladesh – people who desperately need their housing, land and property rights met, not some time in the future, but today. Their faces and circumstances of life tell a tale of both hope and despair.

DS Article – Bangladesh’s Climate Displacement Nightmare, April 2011

This article, published by the Ecologist and written by Scott Leckie, Ezekiel Simperingham and Jordan Bakker after their DS field trip to Bangladesh in January 2011, discusses the crisis that climate change poses for Bangladesh and stresses the need for action to be taken now to protect the human rights of all current displaced persons in Bangladesh, and to prevent mass human rights violations in the future. To read this article, click here.

DS Missions to Bangladesh

In January, October and November 2011 and April 2012, DS visited areas affected by climate displacement across Bangladesh.

Working closely with the Association for Climate Refugees (ACR) and Young Power in Social Action (YPSA), DS has visited climate displacement and relocation sites throughout Bangladesh, conducted trainings on the human rights dimensions of climate displacement with civil society representatives and community leaders, met with government officials and representatives, from the local Union to the national Ministerial level and has held numerous meetings with climate affected individuals and communities to better understand the situation and scope of the climate displacement crisis in Bangladesh.

DS remains committed to working with our partners and the Government of Bangladesh to find urgent housing, land and property rights solutions for the current and future millions of climate displaced people across Bangladesh.

In January 2011, DS sent a five-person team to visit climate-affected areas in Bangladesh – read about it here and see the mission report.

In October and November 2011, DS visited Bangladesh focusing on the scope and causes of river erosion across the country.

In April 2012, DS again visited Bangladesh, focusing on the causes and scope of climate displacement across Chittagong Division. A report on this visit prepared by Young Power in Social Action can be read here.

Further Resources

In this part of the website you will find links to articles, reports and films about how climate change is causing displacement in Bangladesh:

The Dhaka Declaration of the Climate Vulnerable Forum

Bangladesh is the current chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a partnership of countries most affected by global warming.

The Government of Bangladesh hosted a ministerial meeting of the Climate Vulnerable Forum on November 13-14, 2011 in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

The outcome of the meeting was the Dhaka Ministerial Declaration of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (the full text of the Declaration is available here).

The declaration expressly recognises the challenge of climate displacement and states:

Aware that climate change induced displacement of people is a major concern and their relocation puts enormous pressure on infrastructures and service facilities; and furthermore, large-scale displacement has the potential to transform into security concerns;

Recognising that migration is a viable adaptation strategy to ensure that populations are not compelled to reside in high risk and affected areas, and to manage risks during displacement; and furthermore a planned strategy in the long-term to offer displaced populations with enhanced options for dignified and diversified livelihood.

Association for Climate Refugees (ACR) Progress Report

This report was released by ACR in January 2011. It outlines ACR’s work in relation to the recent DS mission to Bangladesh. To access, click here.

Films from the Guardian

Here are links to three extraordinary films from the Guardian on climate displacement in Bangladesh; displacement that is happening not 30 years in the future, but today. All of these are highly recommended viewing to better understand the scale and tragedy of climate displacement, as well as in developing solutions to this immense challenge.

For the film about Bangladesh climate migration, click here here.

For the film about Bangladesh climate migrants in Dhaka, click here.

For the film about Bangladesh climate aid, click here.

Bangladesh NAPA

The Government of Bangladesh’s National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) from 2005 is available here.

Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP)

In 2008, to carry forward the work of the NAPA, the BCCSAP was designed. Click here to access it.

The Dhaka Solution

The article “The Dhaka Solution” by Sebastian Strangio provides a brief overview of the challenges facing Bangladesh caused by climate change. It can be accessed

EACH-FOR Bangladesh

The EACH-FOR project, funded by the EU, investigated a number of environmental change and forced migration scenarios, including a case study in Bangladesh. To access, click here.

The Constitution of Bangladesh

To access the Bangladesh Constitution and view the relevant HLP provisions, click here.

Bangladesh risks becoming failed state, retired general says

The text of this article by Laurie Goering, published on 3 February, 2010, is available here.

Climate Refugees in Bangladesh – Answering the Basics: The Where, How, Who and How Many (as at May 2010)

Extreme climate events – be it the result of environmental destruction by people, or naturally occurring changes in climate – are forcing people to flee their traditional place of residence with enormous sufferings in points of transit and the points of destination without any support from aid agencies or Government authorities. ACR (Association for Climate Refugees), a network of NGOs have been making some efforts in seeking answers to basic questions, like how and where the people have been made refugees, who the refugees are, and how many they are.

Where and how: Mass scale forced displacement has been caused by tidal floods in the exposed coastal area and loss of land due to erosion in the main land river basins

The population in the South and South-East Asia coastline extending from the east coast of India to the coast of Myanmar have been tasting the salt taste of annual cyclones from the Bay of Bengal with ever increasing tidal floods. Due to its existence in the middle of the coastline, Bangladesh is either the worst or the common victim irrespective of the locations where the cyclones make the landfall. Cyclones are not only resulting in human casualties and destruction of properties but also leaving behind perpetual tidal floods. The cyclone Sidr of 2007, Nargis of 2008, Aila of 2009 and Laila of 2010 are the annual extreme events among a number of other hazards. Bangladesh had to endure the entire attack of Sidr while sharing that of Nargis with Myanmar and Aila plus Laila with India. An indigenous research in Dakshin Bedkashi (Koyra Upazila) reveals that tidal flood water level had risen by 1 meter during 5 years (2004 to 2008) but it rose by an additional 1 meter in 2009 alone and in 2010 it continues to rise further. The prevailing hazards and the vulnerability alarm a grave risk to the coast dwellers, with particular emphasis on those in the exposed areas in 12 districts at the south of Bangladesh namely Satkhira, Khulna, Bagerhat, Pirojpur, Barguna, Patuakhali, Bhola, Laxmipur, Feni, Noakhali, Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar.

Around one million people have been rendered homeless due to river erosion in the mainland river basins over the last three decades as the mighty Brahmaputra-Jamuna continues to widen due to decrease in its depth for heavy rush of sediments from the upstream and poor erosion management in the downstream. Official statistics show that the Brahmaputra-Jamuna, a major river system in Bangladesh, has widened to 11.8 km now from 8.3 km in the early ’70s, eroding about 87,790 hectares of land. (CEGIS, 2006). NGOs affiliated with ACR working in the mainland river basin report observing people forced to flee their traditional place of residence due to river erosion at a greater pace. Hotspots of such incidence encompass 10 districts namely Kurigram, Gaibandha, Jamalpur, Bogra, Sirajganj, Rangpur, Lalmonirhat, Nilphamari, Mymensingh and Netrakona.

Bangladesh comprises of 64 districts out of which 22 are major climate refugee generating districts.

Who and how many: The poorer people who used to live in exposed locations are the climate refugees and they are 6 million in number

The poorer people who used to live in the extremely exposed locations in the coastal belt and the main land river basins of Bangladesh are the first to become climate refugees in recent years.

Tidal floods have already badly affected 56% of the 422 unions (lowest unit in the local government) of the 48 upazilas (sub-districts) in the exposed coastal zone of Bangladesh. Most of the villages in the badly affected 236 unions are being flooded by tidal saline water twice a day for the last 3 years. Houses, Land and Properties (HLP) of 2,462,789 people (32%) of the 7,693,331 inhabitants (in the affected unions alone) have been destroyed by repeated cyclones and king tides. Of them, 1,568,980 (64%) are languishing as Local Climate Refugees (LCR) on remainings of embankments or higher grounds in the exposed zone, 675,113 (27%) squatter as Internal Climate Refugees (ICR) in cities including Dhaka and 218,656 (9%) are earning wages by modern slavery as Global Climate Refugees (GCR) across the country borders. Situation in the exposed coast is worsening and it is predicted that the number of climate refugees from the coast will be raised to 3 million by the end of 2010.

River bank erosions have already badly affected 44% of the 407 unions (lowest unit in the local government) of the 36 upazilas (sub-districts) in the exposed main land river basins of Bangladesh. Most of the villages in the badly affected 179 unions are being eroded by onrush of flash flood waters every year during the last 3 decades. Houses, Land and Properties (HLP) of 1,452,588 people (42%) of the 3,490,500 inhabitants (in the affected unions alone) have been destroyed by annual river erosion often coupled with devastating floods. Of them, 951,531 (66%) are languishing as Local Climate Refugees (LCR) on neighboring embankments or higher grounds in the exposed zone, 375,793 (26%) squatter as Internal Climate Refugees (ICR) in cities including Dhaka and 125,264 (8%) are earning wages by modern slavery as Global Climate Refugees (GCR) across the country borders. Situation in the exposed river basin is worsening and it is predicted that the number of climate refugees from the river basin will be raised to 2 million by the end of 2010.

The remaining non-exposed 397 upazilas have sporadically generated another 2.1 million climate refugees. Thus altogether the total number of climate refugees in Bangladesh as of May 2010 stands at 6 million out of which at least 1 million are living in Dhaka Mega City. The total number of climate refugees in Bangladesh is expected to be raised to 7.5 million by the end of 2010.

Hotspots of climate refugees at the point of origin: Island upazilas of Koyra, Shyamnagar and Dacope in the west, and Kutubdia, Hatiya and Swandip in the east of the coastal belt of Bangladesh

In one way or another, all exposed upazilas are generating climate refugees, but some are more immediately and particularly exposed. The middle coast (Barisal Division) enjoys the comparative advantage of being an active delta with land formation in progress as well as a sweet water ecosystem but the west (Khulna Division) and east (Chittagong Division) coast have been unlawfully deprived of that active delta privilege by India’s unilateral interception in international river course originating from the Himalayas. Hence the west coast has 3 hotspots i.e. Koyra and Dacope in Khulna district, and Shyamnagar in Satkhira district. The east coast also has 3 hotspots i.e. Kutubdia in Cox’s Bazar district, Swandip in Chittagong district and Hatiya in Noakhali district.

Response to the plight of the Climate Refugees

The Finance Minister of Bangladesh Government has a clear response by saying “We are asking all our development partners to honour the natural right of persons to migrate. We can’t accommodate all these people – this is already the densest [populated] country in the world.” in a video interview with the Guardian. Repeated cyclones and tidal floods have substantially destroyed the life line of the coast dwellers – the embankments – which is eating up huge resources but yielding no signs of revival.

More than 200 NGOs in Bangladesh are working for resettlement of the climate refugees. They had participated, as a finalist, in the World Bank’s Global Competition on Climate Adaptation held on 10-13 November 2009 in Washington, D.C. but could not win a grant except the World Bank Institute’s Innovation Practice Manager writing “We are indeed working on a range of ideas in which we can communicate with your host governments, other funders in the space, and like-minded partners who can support your projects and perhaps find ways to work with you.”  while responding to a post of the NGOs’ Team Leader in World Bank’s DM Blog. NGOs are negotiating projects with potential donors on climate refugee issues.


Climate change is likely to lead to increasing rates of generation of climate refugees, and it is vital that evolving frameworks for climate change adaptation address issues for compliance by national and international communities to peacefully resettle those climate refugees. Climate change is ignoring country borders making it a global problem; we may not ignore country borders now but can surely begin to work regionally and globally for mutual benefits and interests. We welcome suggestions and assistance for effective and efficient resettlement of climate refugees.

Md. Arifur Rahman Muhammad Abu Musa

Chairperson, ACR and Founder & Chief Executive, ACR and

Chief Executive, YPSA President, CRC (Coastal Resource Center)

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