Disaster and climate induced displacement has become an important issue in the global disaster risk reduction (DRR) conversation. The Co-Chairs’ summary of 2019 UN Global Platform on DRR highlighted that forced to abandon their homes and livelihood, the displaced people are one of the most vulnerable population of the world, and the international community should do more to reduce disaster induced displacement. Bangladesh is globally acclaimed for its success in reducing loss of lives during disasters as well as managing relief after disasters. The country is on course to set yet another example by framing a national strategy for disaster and climate induced displacement.
Bangladesh has been identified as the seventh most affected country in the world due to “extreme weather event”. Each year climate events and disasters such as floods, cyclones, storm surges and slow onset processes like droughts are displacing tens of thousands of households. A global study conducted in 2015 by Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) estimates that one out of every seven Bangladeshis will experience displacement by 2050. However, none of the disaster and climate change related national documents of Bangladesh addresses the concerns of the displaced.
The National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA 2005) visualises internal migration in the aftermath of climate hazards as a problem for the urban dwellers. The Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP 2009) mentions migration but does not talk about the displaced. Again, it only mentions the need for monitoring different flows of migration. The Disaster Management Act 2012 made passing reference to emergency shelter and resettlement. It also does not provide any guidance on how to deal with various phases of displacement. The government’s Standing Orders on Disaster (SODs) provide more detailed instructions to different actors at national and sub-national levels on managing displacement. However, the focus is overwhelmingly on initial emergency shelter.
It is against this backdrop that a comprehensive and rights-based Strategy on Disaster and Climate Induced Displacement has been prepared by the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief (MoDMR). The document is based on UN Sendai Framework, UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement as well as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals. It also incorporates the goal of a “safe, climate resilient and prosperous delta” envisaged in Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100. The strategy focuses solely on internal displacement caused by disaster and climate change related events.
The draft strategy recognises that displacement has grave implications for the rights and entitlements of individuals and communities. Affected persons may face multiple human rights challenges in the aftermath of disasters. Their safety and security are compromised and they may experience gender-based violence, unequal access to assistance, basic goods and services, and discrimination in aid provision. A section of children may also experience abuse, neglect and exploitation. Children, older persons and persons with disabilities who rely on family support for their survival, may experience separation. Loss and destruction of personal document, unequal access to employment and livelihood opportunities, and forced relocation, unsafe or voluntary return are part and parcel of the experience of the displaced. The document chalks out a comprehensive strategy covering all phases of displacement of men, women and children—pre-displacement, during displacement and post displacement. Pre-displacement phase highlights actions required to prevent displacement; humanitarian emergency relief and evacuation are the key features of protection during displacement; and post displacement actions refer to durable solutions.
Prevention aims at stopping displacement by reducing vulnerability and enhancing resilience of the concerned communities through disaster management infrastructure development (embankment and dams) and adoption of climate change adaptation programmes. The various steps suggested in the strategy are: generate knowledge to understand risks; ensure adequate resource allocation in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation; strengthen disaster risk governance; creation of decent employment through promoting and encouraging decentralisation of urban growth centres; and disaster-climate risk responsive land use planning along with identification of highly vulnerable zones and restriction on human settlement in unprotected high vulnerable areas. Prevention also includes disaster preparedness of vulnerable people for likely displacement. It relates to measures taken to ensure effective rights based evacuation including awareness raising, training of responsible actors, pre-identification of evacuation centres and development of standard operating procedure by key service providers such as the health sector, police and transportation.
Protection phase highlights strengthening emergency humanitarian and disaster relief assistance. When displacement takes place it is important to intervene quickly and decisively to manage it and address urgent humanitarian needs. Effective management of evacuation centres and temporary centres addressing right to food, shelter, health, education and safety of all groups, including children, women, elderly and the disabled is essential. Planned measures are suggested for preventing and responding to protection risks faced by vulnerable groups such as children, girls, women, the elderly and persons with disabilities.
Durable solution refers to post-displacement phase. Strategic responses described in this phase attempts to avoid protracted displacement situation. According to UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, durable solutions can be achieved through three types of measures. These are: return to place of origin, integration in the new location and resettlement/relocation to another safe place. Among these three types, return to the place of origin is the most preferred option. Return as a solution targets more specifically those who fall under “temporarily displaced” category. However, such return requires being sustainable in the long run from the perspective of safety, security, livelihood, ecosystem service, housing etc. The second option, which is local level integration is suggested when the displaced population cannot return to their areas of origin because of adverse environmental situations. Successful local level integration requires involvement of the host community. In case return and local integration are not found to be suitable options, the displaced deserve to be resettled in a safe place. The document also discusses institutional arrangement and funding.
In September 2015 the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU) completed the draft strategy for the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief (MoDMR) under its Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme II (CDMPII). The document was formulated through a series of consultation with affected people at a number of disaster and climate change hotspots, and workshop with relevant government functionaries, experts, civil society members and development partners. The strategy was presented at the official session of the 2019 UN Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction held in Geneva. Following the event, the state minister of MoDMR took the initiative to update and revise the document. RMMRU on advice of MoDMR, in collaboration with Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS), International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), Centre for Climate Change and Environmental Research (C3ER), completed the task and handed over the document to the state minister for MoDMR. The strategy is now ready to go through the inter-ministerial consultation process before final adoption.
The importance of this rights-based document lies in the fact that it has been initiated by the government and prepared by a group of Bangladeshi professionals for the betterment of a marginalised group. If it is adopted in the near future, Bangladesh is going to be the second country in the world to have a strategy on the displaced. Civil society organisations working on displacement strongly urge the government to adopt the strategy before the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference—Cop25.
Tasneem Siddiqui is the founding Chair of RMMRU and Professor of Political Science, University of Dhaka. She is the lead author of the strategy.