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Intra-Island Migration in Bay of Bengal

 

Peoples living in coastal and offshore islands of Bangladesh have been facing a problem of losing their homes and sources of livelihoods by natural hazards and are forced to move further into the sea. These increase their vulnerability socially and environmentally than any time before. Question may arise; why these peoples are not migrating toward inland or toward better place? The answer is: these migrants do not have enough economic solvencies to support their migration and living in a better place (for reason like high land price, unavailability of sufficient land and many others). From generation to generation these poor peoples are trapped within a circle of migration forced by natural hazards.

As a deltaic plain, physiography of Bengal Delta faces frequent changes in its shape and size – mostly through riverbank erosion and consequent accretion of new lands. This uncontrollable natural phenomenon forces inhabitants living in this region to migrate very often. This kind of migration is as old as the history of people living in this region. Direction of this migration is generally North to South. This is because most of the river in Bengal Delta plain flow from north-south direction, it causes more erosion in upper (North) stream areas, and more accretion of land in southern portion of the country – prominently in Meghna Estuarine areas. In the lower Meghna region every year four to five newly accreted islands have emerged – which become habitable and attracts homeless and landless migrants from inland or other islands.

These new born islands facilitates several pull factor for the poor migrants: low land price, high fertility and productivity of agriculture lands, enormous amount of unclaimed natural resources like timber or fisheries etc., sometimes incentives from the local government authorities and so on. But after certain times, when these islands get populated or started to get eroded – people began to move out from these places to more remote islands. People from inland areas like Noakhali, Barisal, Patuakhali, Feni migrated in Hatiya and Sandwip islands (large off-shore islands of bay of Bengal) from the early 90’s – mainly pushed by riverbank erosion, riverine flood, and also for in search of better fortune. At that time, these were newly born islands with vast natural resources in Bay of Bengal. Eventually, they got populated and as these islands are never meant to be static due to the dynamic fluvial process of Meghna and Bay of Bengal – they got eroded. Cyclones, storm surge, tidal surge and salinity amplified the intensity of adverse natural effect upon human society. As consequences, poor people and along with their families started to out-migrate from these islands from the beginning of 1990s and 90 percent of these migrants went to more vulnerable regions of new born islands of Bay of Bengal or newly accreted lands. From recent research it has been seen that, at present more than 85 percent of poor populations living in coastal areas thought that they would have to migrate towards further remote areas, islands or newly accreted lands because of their poor economic condition.

Example can be drawn from a research done in Char Nizam Kalkini in 2012, which is a remote off-shore island in Bay of Bengal. This is a new island discovered in mid 80’s and people start to live here from then. At present around 250 families live in Char Nizam Kalkini, and every year around 10 to15 families move in this island from inland areas in spite of its vulnerable conditions. This island is regularly flooded by tidal flood and is extremely vulnerable to cyclones and associated storm surges. Nearest mainland is three hours boat ride from this island. There is only one primary school and a small local market, communication services are rare too. The most unsafe situation is that, there is no sufficient shelter for these people to take shelter during any extreme natural events like cyclone or high storm surge. Thousands of people are living in these islands fighting with the hostile situation of nature. There is also not enough land for cultivation because govt. did not permit them to use all lands for their agricultural purpose, so there economic conditions remain poor. So, despite all these problems why these people have been migrated here and living here? The answer for this complicated question is simple; these people have nowhere else to go – they are trapped within a circle of bad fortune by their poor economic condition and natural hazards of these regions. From a survey in 2012, it has been seen that people living in Char Nizam Kalkini are landless families who have lost their houses and lands for riverbank erosions and other natural disasters like flood, cyclone etc. Families living here are so poor that they even do not have sufficient asset to move towards towns or cities to better their livelihood. Discussing with the inhabitants and community leaders, it has been found that these islanders are keen to move towards to inland or at least to large islands so that they can afford a better safe condition for their families but unfortunately they cannot.

**Data presented in this paper was collected by the author in 2012 during postgraduate research in several islands of Bay of Bengal

Md Rezwan Siddiqui
M.Sc. in Geography and Environment
University of Dhaka, Bangladesh
rezsid@gmail.com

 

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