The Environmental Refugees: A Comparative Study of Displaced Women in the Coastal Districts Khulna and Bagerhat, Bangladesh

Friday, July 18, 2014: 10:30 AM
Room: 419
Oral Presentation
Sharmin AKTHER , Political Science, University of Dhaka, Dhaka, Bangladesh
It is well recognized that unsustainable development projects all across the globe, especially in the developing global South, have resulted in various kinds of ecological hazards like salinity, floods and so on  displacing a huge chunk of population, known in the current text as the ‘environmental refugees’ from their ancestral homes and conventional livelihoods. In this context, it has to be kept in mind that all people who are displaced and are termed as ‘environmental refugees’ do not migrate. The decision to migrate in crisis situations like environmental hazards depends on a host of institutional and structural factors. Thus, not only the degree of vulnerability of an individual or a family in crisis situations depends on the institutional and structural factors as observed by various studies, but the capabilities and opportunities for mobility also depend to a large extent upon these factors. Keeping this in mind, the present paper through an ethnographic field study in a few salinity-prone villages of the most backward coastal districts (in terms of Gender Development Index and Human Development Index) of Bangladesh, namely Khulna and Bagerhat districts, tries to find out how institutional and structural factors affect the migration decision of women belonging to various social and economic groups. The cases of Khulna and Bagerhat represent a unique situation of displacement of huge number of population, caused partly by the salinity due to sea level rise and partly by the cyclone Aila and Sidr. The main finding of the study is that migration in many of the cases, especially for the women-headed household, has often proved to be an enabling experience. The decision to migrate has often saved these households from the perils of starvation death caused by loss of cultivable land and other livelihood resources from the engulfment hazards.