Simi Mehta, Ritika Gupta, Amita Bhaduri
To understand the far-reaching and disproportionate impact of rising sea-level on coastal communities, the Centre for Environment, Climate Change and Sustainable Development (CECCSD), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, Tarun Bharat Sangh, India Water Portal, and Parmarth Samaj Sevi Sansthan organized a #webpolicytalk on the Sea Rise Induced Displacement in the Bay of Bengal as part of its #WaterAndClimate series.
The moderator, Dr. Indira Khurana, Senior Expert at Water Sector and the Vice Chair of Tarun Bharat Sangh commenced the session. She mentioned that the issue of climate change and the ensuing condition of climate refugees is a concern in India and at the global level. India has a vast coastal population, and thus, a large number of people are being affected. With respect to the Sundarbans Delta region, the area has a fragile ecology with villages that are highly prone to erosion. Over the years, migration is commonplace as a result of uncertainty arising from frequent storms.
Mr. Ranjan Panda, Waterman of Odisha and Convenor of Water Initiatives and Combat Climate Change Network stated that his ongoing evidence-based research recognized the need for a sustained effort. He emphasized that the impact of climate change reflects the state of water bodies. It is imperative to comprehend human activities and their effects on the water to know why people are disproportionately affected worldwide. Ecosystems and ocean biodiversity are under constant threat, and it is our collective responsibility to protect biodiversity in order to combat climate change.
Sea Level Rise and its Effects
Since 1880, the sea level has risen by 8 to 9 inches in India. Mr. Ranjan stated that a minimum of 12 inches of sea-level rise is expected by the end of this century, despite global climate agreements. Apart from these figures, the drastic impact is evident, with the poorest communities being the first victims. The main issue of displacement may bring about a multitude of changes in society along with escalating stress on available resources. 10% of the global population residing in coastal areas is at the highest risk of disasters such as coastal erosion, inundations, storm floods, tidal waters encroachment, and displacement of coastal lowlands.
For internally displaced people, extreme weather events and the following disasters force them to migrate to relatively safer places. There has been an exponential rise in their population. It has been forecasted that the Internally Displaced People (IDP) can rise to more than 143 million by 2050.
Bay of Bengal’s Infamous Nature
The Bay of Bengal is labeled as the cyclone hotbed, as several deadly cyclones have originated over its area. Due to its geographical location, Odisha bears the brunt of the cyclones and rising sea levels. Climate change, geographical tampering, and thermal expansion contribute to this rise.
Odisha has lost about 28% of its coastline. Reports state that 30% of the coastal areas will be at substantial risk of erosion in the future. The sea-level increase has also resulted in huge economic loss and disruption of livelihood among the coastal communities, further forcing the poor into grave poverty. The coping mechanisms of people have been worsening, and building resilience to combat these changes is a difficult task. Investments to mitigate the condition require resources. Additionally, the realization that resources are diminishing should nudge people to adopt an ecological approach towards protecting biodiversity.
The Reality of Vulnerable People
Tandahar and Udayakani in Puri district have been exposed to the ingression of the sea, as they are merely 100 meters away from it. The local communities have already relocated thrice, with their original village being inside the sea. Moreover, agriculture is not feasible in the region due to recent storms and the inundation of fields. Therefore, agricultural land has shrunk and people have become landless and migrant laborers.
As climatic and political issues persist, people do not have access to the regular piped water supply. Consequently, women travel around 1.5 kilometers to collect water that is less saline. In terms of health issues, the locals face gastro-related diseases, hypertension, and skin diseases. Despite having a negligible carbon footprint, these people are made to face the impact of climate change.
Satabhaya: The Face of Climate Change
Previously a prosperous panchayat, Satabhaya has been the worst-hit region of sea rise. People were forced to leave when the sea engulfed the area. Currently, they have been rehabilitated to Bagapatia rehabilitation colony. This colony is the first of its kind in Odisha and supports people affected by sea erosion. However, the problem is that there is no mechanism to compensate for the loss faced by the coastal communities.
Essentially, only homestead land is provided, and people still do not possess individual or community land for agricultural purposes. This increases their dependence on markets for food and risks their nutritional security, as the consumption of protein has come down.
Mr. Ranjan highlights the housing and land title for the displaced people and mentions that detailed rehabilitation laws should be drafted. Livelihood security and opportunities can only be developed over time and until then, cash compensations should be made. Food and nutritional security should also be considered thoroughly. Placing people at the center, suitable policies should be systematically created and carefully implemented.
Dr. Indira Khurana mentioned the importance of the relationship between ecological health and holistic human development. Mr. Ranjan Panda took a question on organizations that are actively working towards support internally displaced people. He elaborated on the groups of people working on migration, land rights, forest rights, water, sanitation, and gender.
Speaking of policy response to climate-induced displacements, he recommended that provisions under existing policies can be used. Cooperation between countries is also crucial to help climate refugees. Additionally, the government should play an active role in identifying ecological vulnerabilities before paving the way for further development.
Acknowledgment: Ritheka Sundar is a Research Intern at IMPRI