ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Governing Mass Migration to Dhaka

Revisiting Climate Factors

For a clear framework of governance of population flow affecting Dhaka and its peri-urban areas, it is important to identify and distinguish the climatic and non-climatic issues. For the first set of issues, scientific data on sea level rise, salinity and the degree and frequency of natural disasters need attention, while the second set of issues requires an examination of the politics of exclusion and extortion, filling-up of wetlands, pollution and death of waterbodies, lengthy legal disputes on agrarian property and iniquitous access to pedestal natural resources like char (alluvial landforms).

The author acknowledges the critical points raised by the anonymous reviewer of the article. Versions of the article were presented at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Universiti Brunei Darussalam and Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore. He would like to thank Wan Zawawi Ibrahim, Annu Jalais, Md Mizanur Rahman, Rohan D’Souza, A K M Ahsan Ullah and Fiona Williamson for their useful suggestions.

A major social scientific response to the challenge of climate change centres on the idea of displacement. The complex chemistry of rising temperature that syncs unruly weather, sea level rise (SLR) and various forms of natural disasters have led social scientists to focus on the displacement of significant numbers of the global population from their habitats and consequent migration elsewhere, in most cases to burgeoning urban spaces. Such concern for human displacement and sordid mobility is nowhere more salient than in Bangladesh. Locating Dhaka in the emerging debates on climate change is important for a number of reasons. Almost 40% of Bangladesh’s gross domestic product (GDP) originates in Dhaka and its peri-urban areas. By 2025, with a population of 22 million, Dhaka is expected to overtake Shanghai, New York and Karachi to secure the fourth place among the megacities. The current population growth rate of more than 4% is way above the national average and more than 18 million or roughly one-tenth of the country’s population live in this city. This makes Dhaka one of the world’s most densely populated cities, with more than 45,000 people inhabiting per square kilometre. By any measure, Dhaka represents the maximum demographic volatility of a megacity.

This massive population crescendo is largely the result of constant flow of internal migrants from across the country. About half a million new migrants settle in Dhaka annually, making the city a destination for an unending exodus. Why is such a huge number heading for Dhaka? An exploration of the recent academic literature and media representations show a growing consensus on the reasons for Dhaka-bound migrations: climate change. The debates that emerged a couple of decades ago around more nuanced environmental and social factors of migration have more recently been bundled into one master narrative of climate change, with the concurrent message that migrants of Dhaka are climate refugees.1

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Updated On : 6th Sep, 2019
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