Around 59% of households in the Sundarbans region have at least one member who has resorted to migration outside of their village to find work as their livelihood opportunities have lost for climate-induced disasters, according to a study conducted by Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program (OKUP). Among those, members of 86% of households have migrated internally to different districts within Bangladesh, while members of 14% of households have migrated abroad, shows the study conducted during July 2022 to September 2023.

The study titled “Migration — not a choice but a compulsion: Lived Experiences of Climate-Induced Migrants in the Sundarbans Region in Bangladesh” was presented at a press conference at the OKUP’S office in Dhaka’s Dania on Wednesday (29 November). Among the people who migrated internally, 93% belong to “short-term seasonal migration” and 7% are in “longer-term migration,” show the study findings. The research was conducted at three Unions namely Gabura, Padmapukur and Kaikhali of Shyamnagar upazila of Satkhira. A total of 1,050 households from 64 villages across the research locations were surveyed.

“The lived experiences and testimonies of the returnee migrant workers both internal and international and their families demonstrate that migration was never a first choice for the people in the Sundarbans region,” Shakirul Islam, chairperson of OKUP, said at the press conference. “Their decision to migrate was not the result of a genuine choice, but was mostly triggered by a compulsion to pay off their loans and rebuild their lives in the context of persistent threats by climate induced disasters,” he added.

According to the OKUP study, previously, most of the people in this region used to migrate in one season per year to secure basic necessities. They used to work in the villages to earn their subsistence for rest of the year. By contrast, in recent years, many people have had to migrate several times per year because the sources of local work have gradually dried up due to frequent and intensified disasters. Over the last 15 years, 92% of households of the Sundarbans area have faced destruction of their houses, crops and other assets by cyclones and storms, and 88% of households have faced the same sort of losses by floods, while 70% of households have lost their homeland, farmland or both due to riverbank erosion, revealed the research.

On the other hand, 72% of households have been critically affected by rapidly increasing and intensified salinity in ground soil and water, 62% by erratic rainfall, and 40% by high temperature and heatwaves. The repeated and multiple loss of assets, wellbeing and livelihoods have locked many people in the region in endless efforts to cope and survive.