Connecting the spots

Notes on migration and environment from a geographical perspective



DECCMA analyzes the impacts of climate change and other environmental drivers and processes of migration across contrasting deltas in Africa and Asia. The project study sites are the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna delta (Bangladesh and India), Mahanadi delta (India) and Volta delta (Ghana). The India team consists of Jadavpur University, Centre for Environment and Development, Chilika Development Authority (Orissa), SANSRITI, Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur (IITK), and the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC).

Mar 1st 2016 by DECCMA India

Understanding Internal Migration Patterns in the Indian Bengal Delta

It is particularly difficult to monitor internal migration patterns. As a result studies often end up focusing on one type of migration (e.g. rural migration to cities), and this often paints a simplistic picture of certain areas being sources for migrants, and others being sinks. The reality of migration is much more complex – various people are moving in and out of different areas for different reasons, and for differing lengths of time. An innovative method that involves residents in an area of DECCMA’s study was applied to try and investigate these issues and give a more nuanced insight into migration on the island of Satjalia in the Sundarbans (see map).

Climate change is driving migration in Satjalia island

Satjalia covers an area of 51.66 km2 and has more people per land area than the United Kingdom.  Most inhabitants rely on natural resource based livelihoods (fisheries and forestry).  Livelihoods are under threat from cyclones and storm surges as well as increases in temperature and variation in rainfall patterns due to climate change.  The local rate of sea level rise is much higher than the global average, causing inundation of salt water onto agricultural land and an increase in soil salinity.  Since Satjalia is an island in a delta, it is also exposed to acute river bank erosion and frequent embankment breaching. 

The changing climate and associated hazards has undone the benefits of increasing investments in agriculture, causing a loss in productivity and production.  The lack of alternative job opportunities, and limited other skills of inhabitants means that migration is an important adaptation to allow people to survive.

Innovative mechanism to investigate migration patterns

In order to look at who is migrating, when, for how long, and why, 12 local villagers were trained in undertaking primary research themselves, as opposed to outside researchers coming in.  They carried out over 3000 surveys in 7 villages (mouza) across the island, of which 2894 data sets were used in the analysis.

Four categories of migrants were identified in Satjalia: permanent out-migrants [14%]; permanent in-migrants [17%]; seasonal male migrants [56%]; and seasonal female migrants [13%].  Whilst more people are leaving than entering on aggregate, it is interesting that there is both in- and out-migration.  Satjalia Island, despite the problems outlined above, is regarded by some as being a better option than where they are from.

Economic labor migration amongst young adults predominates-but differs in nature for men and women

Analysis of the survey results yielded a wealth of information, not only about the migrants themselves but also the areas from and to which they migrated.  The preferred destination for out-migration is Kolkata City, reflecting the theory that much migration is from rural areas to urban areas (economic labour migration).  Typically young adults are those that participate in this flow of rural to urban migration – with the biggest age categories being the 26-35 year age group, followed by the 36-45 year age group.  Men and women go to different places to engage in different activities.

Among the economic labor migrants, men tend to move to the peri-urban areas on the outskirts of Kolkata, where there is a relative shortage of labor.  They work in the construction industry (for example as daily laborers or masons), or as delivery people or security guards.  Women migrants, who are fewer in number, tend to congregate in central Kolkata city, where wages are higher than in the peri-urban outskirts. 

Sending money back home is a common feature of economic labor migrants – but there is a sharp contrast in the level of remittances sent by male and female migrants.  Men tend to send home at least 1.5 times the amount sent by females, reflecting the differences in earnings between men and women.

Sending money back home is a common feature of economic labor migrants – but there is a sharp contrast in the level of remittances sent by male and female migrants"

People are moving into Satjalia island, as well as within it from village to village

In-migration (for example, from neighbouring islands) and local movement was also illuminated by the survey. 

Some villages (mouza) have more people moving out than in (e.g. Dayapur mouza), whilst in others it is the reverse (e.g. Satjalia mouza). This suggests that, even within a relatively small island, there are differences in opportunities and the extent to which farming and fishing are adversely affected by climate change.

Next steps and using these findings

The study in Satjalia reinforces the complexity of migration – and highlights who is moving, where, and why.  Training local residents to undertake the survey means that, unlike many pieces of research that necessarily provide a snapshot at the time of research, monitoring of the patterns can continue to be observed if (and how) they change over time.  In particular, understanding migrants’ reasons for moving is interesting for future dimensions.  In the meantime, understanding current patterns highlights priority areas for intervention – for example, to improve the yields from farming and fisheries within the context of climate change and improve local economic opportunities.

Authors: Tuhin Ghosh and Shruti Thakur are based at the School of Oceanographic Studies at Jadavpur University in Kolkata, and part of the Deltas, Vulnerability & Climate Change: Migration & Adaptation (DECCMA) project.

Photo credits: DECCMA