Extreme climate events trigger migration in Odisha’s Kendrapara, Jharkhand’s Palamu

Study says social protection mechanisms could not absorb climate shocks in both rapid-onset and slow-onset contexts

May 30, 2022 04:54 pm | Updated 04:54 pm IST - BHUBANESWAR:

A villager walks on the road after cyclone Bulbul cross near by Odisha coast in Kendrapara district in Odisha. File

A villager walks on the road after cyclone Bulbul cross near by Odisha coast in Kendrapara district in Odisha. File | Photo Credit: Biswaranjan Rout

Extreme climatic events are behind the mass migration from Odisha’s coastal Kendrapara district and Jharkhand’s Palamu district, says a study funded by the U.K. Government’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).

“Climate extremes in coastal Odisha are predominantly rapid-onset events like cyclones, floods and storm surges. Jharkhand primarily experiences drought, which is typically a slow onset event. Our study’s findings from both rapid-onset and slow-onset contexts show that social protection mechanisms could not absorb the climate shocks or efficiently cover all eligible households.,” says the study titled ‘Climate change, migration and vulnerability to trafficking’.

The study says, “Kendrapara had been one of the most fertile and prosperous regions of Odisha. But climate extremes, in the form of rapid-onset events, have proven that even stable ecosystems and prosperous economies can collapse.”

The study, which was conducted by multiple NGOs, including International Institute for Environment and Development, Partnering Hope into Action, and Foundation and Aide et Action South Asia, compared the economic and social conditions of both Kendrapara and Palamu.

People in Kendrapara have better literacy, awareness levels and household income than in Palamu. While most non-trafficked and trafficked migrants from Palamu belonged to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, in Kendrapara, migrants were predominantly from general category and Other Backward Class communities.

“Despite these assets, the vulnerability of people in Kendrapara has increased tremendously, primarily due to climate change. More frequent cyclones and floods coupled with sea-level rise and sea water intrusion have caused loss and damage of livelihood assets, soil erosion and land degradation. Consequently, socioeconomic problems such as decline in income, unemployment and indebtedness have cropped up in the last few decades,” the study says.

According to Umi Daniel, who heads the migration unit of Aide Et Action and is one of the authors, social protection programmes are inadequate and under-covered. “As a result, vulnerable sections of the area are forced to migrate and prone to trafficking,” he said.

In contrast, Palamu is chronically underdeveloped in terms of socioeconomic and political factors.

A man collects drinking water from a drying pond in the Palamu area of Jharkhand. File

A man collects drinking water from a drying pond in the Palamu area of Jharkhand. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu Photo Library

“Palamu district is one of the most exposed and vulnerable regions to climate change impacts. Over time, the climate of Palamu has shifted from sub-humid to semi-arid, causing frequent and prolonged drought and frost. Our analysis showed that households engaged in trafficked migration are more vulnerable than those with non-trafficked migrants and non-migrants,” the study finds.

The three organisations covered two contrasting geographies — rapid-onset events in Kendrapara district and slow-onset events in Palamu district. In all, 420 households were covered (210 in each location). The sample was distributed evenly across 14 villages —seven each in Kendrapara and Palamu.

In Kendrapara, more than 60% of those surveyed said floods were a major climate stressor, while 87% in Palamu reported that they were vulnerable to droughts.  Around 85% of migrants in both Kendrapara and Palamu migrated once or twice a year for less than six months. In Palamu, people also migrated for reasons related to healthcare and debt. In Kendrapara, people migrated for housing. Most migrants from both study locations were engaged as wage labour in construction — 25% in Kendrapara and 32% in Palamu.

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