Media Approach towards Climate Refugees, Disaster and Displacement in South Asian Economy and Society

Shahenoor Akhtar Urmi presents an overview of media approaches to climate induced displacement. Urmi was a participant in CRG and Commonwealth Journalists’ Association- India’s collaborative workshop “Climate Change, Disaster, Displacement and Role of Media”, organized in Kolkata, India on 24-25 August, 2022.

Increasingly, people will be forced to move due to climate change, within their own borders or beyond. South Asian communities have historically benefited from migration and considered it an important aspect of their lives. Migrants who are forced to migrate and have no assets are often seen as ‘encroachers’ or ‘outsiders’, and this causes a humanitarian crisis.

Recently, climate change has intensified the severity and frequency of climate-related hazards, causing people to migrate who are called ‘climate refugees’ at all costs, as well as causing health, housing, education, wealth, and gender inequality crises.

Disaster and Displacement

Tens of millions people are being displaced in the South Asian region right now, and the number could rise three fold in 30 years unless the countries fail to take strong measures to mitigate the devastating effects of global warming, according to Costs of Climate Inaction: Displacement and Distress Migration. Meeting the Paris Agreement’s goals of limiting global warming to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius, however, will limit the number of people displaced or forced to move in these five countries to around 22.5 million by 2030 and roughly 34.4 million by 2050, preventing at least 44.5 million from fleeing their homes.But not meeting up the goal of reducing global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, has driven 18 million climate refugees from their homes in South Asia in 2020, the report also said.

Most of the climate-induced migration and refugees in the region are domestic and from rural to urban areas. According to Asian Development Bank data floods and losses of agricultural lands have froced the victims to take decisions of migration within and across borders.

Loss and Damage

Several public and private funding sources are needed to ensure a steady increase in climate aid funding to poor, vulnerable nations, according to environmental campaigners. Even though Bangladesh’s gross domestic product (GDP) has grown from $6.2 billion in 1972 to $305 billion in 2019, it cannot afford the cost of global warming on its own. According to Germanwatch’s 2021 Climate Change Performance Index, only six countries were hit more severely by climate change between 2000 and 2019. Bangladesh lost 0.41 percent of its GDP during that period, and a single cyclone in 2019 incurred losses of $8.1 billion.

Experts suggested that to adapt to climate change and recover from climate disasters, developed countries must demonstrate strong leadership with realistic plans and ambition. It also urged rich countries to provide support and urged developing countries to be more aggressive in protecting people from the effects of climate change.

We don’t have any particular data bank for South Asian countries regarding climate migrants and displaced people. There are some inter-district migrants and displaced, some are seasonal migration due to climate induced, said Abdur Rahman Rana, a climate expert working on Smart Climate Development based in Bangladesh.

People from low-lying coastal zones are the most vulnerable in the country. They are involved in nature based professions like agriculture, vegetable plantation and fishing, often migrating from districts to big cities for work. There is no data for accurate numbers of migration and displacements.

Rahman, who is the director of Center for People and Envirin (CPA) said the word ‘climate refugee’ is might not appropriate in term of displaced and migrants because ‘refugee’ are those who have been forced to flee from their country or state because of persecution, war or violence, and require the protection of the government in the new country. Here the migrants or displaced are compelled to leave their homes due to lack of financial support and natural disaster. If they are called ‘climate refugees’ they will have the right to get support similar to what the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are getting. Government should emphasize on a plan at the national level with policies for migrant people, place of relocation, resettlement and type of supports.

Media Approach

The media approach towards climate migrants is yet to be developed properly. As of now, the media only talks about the flood, drought and natural calamities. The media often talks about incidents but hardly about reasons and consequences. Media needs to identify the reasons behind climate change, its consequences, adapt house policy and draw the attention of policy makers, Sohrab Hassan, Joint Editor of the daily Prothom Alo, a well circulated Bangla national newspaper in Bangladesh opined.

At present the media only plan and emphasize on stories related to floods and disasters, but rarely publishes on long impacts on health, food, nutrition and mental health issues, he added. It is high time ministries of Disaster Management and Relief and Health and Family Welfare come together and form a committee or cell for journalists where media get all required information and data to help make awareness and consciences of climate change and impacts, said Rafiqul Bahar, Residence Editor of the Ekushey Television.Having no particular policy and management in house, media may not pay much attention in the ‘climate change’ and ‘migration’ issue, he said, adding that, media has a power which might help to reduces loss and damage by published and telecast relevant stories which might help the community to take adaptation and mitigation process, rather than displaced and migration. Bahar also said that if the government and aid agencies need help in terms of fighting against Climate Change and migration, the media is the only way to help out to reach people immediately with information and help.

Shahenoor Akther Urmi, is a freelance journalist and whose key interest areas are environment, Climate Migration and Displacement, wild life and human trafficking. Urmi may be reached at


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