Climate change, vulnerable rural areas, migration to urban zones and socio-economic dimensions

Published : 05 Dec 2023 07:17 PM

We in Bang­la­desh, like many other countries affected through climate vulnerability, have seen large numbers of the affected population migrating to urban areas with their family members to discover new dimensions of livelihood as well as safety. Climate migrants tend to move to cities in their own countries where they often end up in urban slums characterized by sub-standard housing. Despite such a scenario they feel slightly safer. We have seen the rural population in our coastal areas decide to take such a step after the effect of osmotic salinity which might have affected their efforts related to agriculture or partially destroyed their functional connectivity through the erosion of roads.  

Climatologists have been monitoring the impacts of climate change on human mobility on a global scale. This is being done carefully because there is agreement that nearly 3.3 to 3.6 billion people are highly vulnerable to climate change.

There is also consensus that contrary to popular perceptions, most climate migrants move internally to cities within their own countries, attracted by the perceived employment, education, and healthcare opportunities that urban areas offer. Such a scenario creates the question as to the serious efforts that need to be undertaken by city authorities to tackle this addition in their population who have suffered from several dimensions in their lives.

City governments will need to play a pivotal role in transforming urban migration into an effective climate change adaptation strategy that benefits both climate-vulnerable rural communities and the cities they settle in. By doing so, city governments can proactively manage the challenges posed by climate migrants while also harnessing their potential contributions to a city's economic growth and resilience.

Jin-ho Chung, a Research Fellow at the United Nations University Centre for Policy Research (UNU-CPR) has recently made some significant observations. 

The analyst has noted that as the crisis intensifies and the number of climate migrants grow within a country, urban areas across the Global South face mounting pressures to provide sufficient housing, jobs, and public services to serve their growing populations. It has also been remarked that those “moving due to climate extremes and environmental degradation will most likely find themselves living in urban slums, exposed to unhygienic conditions and forced to live in sub-standard housing”. It is also likely that they will face a highly competitive job market scenario for which they may lack qualifications or experience, and limited access to healthcare and public services due to other restrictions.

This evolving aspect has persuaded urban authorities in the Global South to get nervous about how to tackle an emerging situation that was not thought of during their drawing up of their annual budget. This is so because as the climate crisis intensifies, grappling with the challenge of integrating these newcomers without increasing pressure on already stretched urban infrastructure and services is becoming problematic.

Consequently, analysts associated with socio-economic dimensions have been suggesting that the need is growing for affected countries to monitor carefully how countries in Europe and some parts of South-East Asia have been enhancing their resilience and sustainability. They have found some least common denominators as to how in some sub-region urban authorities view the climate migration challenge as an opportunity – to not only alleviate pressures but also to simultaneously pursue development objectives, stimulate economies, and ensure safe and secure living conditions for all residents. Most interesting, indeed.

It has been observed that strategists think that a strategic policy response could help mitigate challenges while preparing cities for the future. In this context it is underlined that city governments need to play a pivotal role in transforming urban migration into an effective climate change adaptation strategy that benefits both climate-vulnerable rural communities and the cities they settle in. Such an effort is being undertaken in several parts of India and also in Bangladesh. By doing so, city governments are taking proactive measures to manage the challenges posed by climate migrants while also harnessing their potential contributions to a city’s economic growth and resilience.

We also need to see the other side of the coin. We have to understand that enhancing human mobility and removing restrictions on free movement might also contribute not only in the ability to adapt within a different dimension created by climate change and environmental difficulties; but also provide the necessary labour flexibility for cities- for example in the construction sector. This feature might then help and contribute to poverty reduction in rural areas.

We must not overlook the fact that migrants, acting as agents of change, also often support their home communities through remittances from their earnings in the urban areas. We know how in Bangladesh; such flow of financial support has been accelerated through financial companies like B-Cash. This has been creating in its own way dynamic labour markets. It is also enabling geographic mobility of workers who are essential to supply labour precisely where and when it is needed. We have seen this feature taking place with workers affected by climate vulnerability in the coastal regions of Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and the Philippines- seeking job opportunities in the Middle East.

Consequently, urban authorities in many countries examine mobility patterns and trends, identify and prioritize urban areas and infrastructure that require support. 

However, it is also agreed that requisite additional legal measures may also be required, including labour laws that strengthen the rights of migrant workers, ensure safe working environments, and provide protection from exploitation.

We must not also forget that better and more constructive migrants’ social inclusion can be secured not only through education and training, which enhance their employment prospects, but also through access to healthcare, affordable and suitable housing.

In this regard we have noticed how the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been carefully moving forward. Their city governments have carefully drawn attention of the national governments to the fact that they will depend on national governments granting urban authorities more influence in critical policy domains. They have correctly reiterated that policy collaboration across different levels of governance is also key to supporting migrants and enhancing climate-compatible development in both places of origin and destination through circular mobility initiatives. These factors are contributing also towards a climate- resilient urban resurgence.

It is generally agreed by environmentalists that COPs have historically made progress in advancing policies, funding, and recommendations to support climate-related migrants and cities in their adaptation efforts. As such, it is being held that It is imperative that COP28 fulfils its earlier decisions to enhance climate funding in developing countries. 

This will then enable them to tackle migration aspects of their local population from rural to urban areas. We also have to remember that urban areas are not only home to more than half of the world’s population, but also serve as the primary engines of the global economy and job creation. Funds targeting cities will also assist in their acceleration efforts within the matrix of global green transition.

However, to achieve such a scenario, COP28 will need to address a critical shortage in available funding, laid bare by the UN Environment Programme’s recent- “Adaptation Gap” report which estimates that developing countries will need between US Dollar 215 and 387 billion in public adaptation finance per year this decade. This scenario gains significance because due to the trend of decreasing adaptation funds – only US Dollar 21 billion was available in 2021, US Dollar 4 billion less than the previous year. This unfortunate situation needs to be urgently addressed. We all need to remember that COP28, just a few days away, is an opportunity to emphasize the need for long-term policy support aimed at tackling the challenges associated with climate-induced migration to urban areas. We must not forget that cities will play a central role in our transition to more resilient and sustainable societies.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance, can be reached at [email protected]