New insights on climate change, migration and adaptation in the Mahanadi and Indian Bengal deltas

by Sumana Banerjee

DECCMA has released two new briefs that outline the latest findings on climate change, migration and adaptation in the Mahanadi and Indian Bengal deltas. Among the highlights are the relationship of migration to climate stress (with most stressed locations sending more migrants in both deltas), the barriers to policy implementation (particularly relating to embankment (re)construction), and lack of gender-sensitive adaptation policies.

The briefs provide an update to our earlier delta briefs (for the Mahanadi and Indian Bengal deltas).

DECCMA gender outputs published in India’s Economic and Political Weekly

by Katharine Vincent

The issue of India’s Economic and Political Weekly published on 28th April 2018 features two papers from DECCMA researchers. Asha Hans from DECCMA and Nitya Rao from ASSAR penned a piece “Gender and climate change. Directions for research, policy and practice” that introduces various articles that interrogates a statement in the Indian National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) that states that “the impacts of climate change could prove particularly severe for women”. “Adapting to climate change-induced migration. Women in the Indian Bengal delta” is by the late Asish Kumar Ghosh, Sukanya Banerjee and Farha Naaz. It highlights how climate change-induced migration by men after cyclone Aila left women with the burden of running households – but the positive role of self-help groups in enabling empowerment.

Fish drying technology used by women’s groups (photo by Sumana Banerjee)

A tribute to Dr Asish Ghosh by Andrew Allan and Christopher Spray

Following the passing of Dr Asish Ghosh, two of his colleagues on the governance and stakeholder engagement work package, Andrew Allan and Chris Spray from the University of Dundee, pen a personal tribute to him.

Dr Asish K. Ghosh, 1938-2018

“Our respected colleague, Dr. Asish Ghosh, sadly died on the 2nd of April. He was the lead researcher in India on governance and stakeholder engagement for the DECCMA Project, and a tenacious advocate for those affected by environmental change. His work on the project took up only a relatively small part of his time – but he worked energetically on many different issues right up to the end of his life. He led the Centre for Environment and Development (CED) in Kolkata for over 20 years and contributed regular articles for the environmental journal, Down to Earth, writing his last only in February shortly before his 80th birthday.

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For those of us who worked with him on the DECCMA project, he was a man of forthright views and a wealth of expertise informed by over 50 years of experience in environmental and biodiversity-related issues. The range of his experience was not always evident: his extensive consultancy and research work was acquired only after he had retired from his post as Director of the Zoological Survey of India in 1996.

We often had long and fascinating conversations about British and Indian history, about which he was passionately interested. He had a wicked sense of humour and British staff remember being recipients of many jibes related to that history – always delivered in good humour with a grin.  He was also very modest.  One of our historical discussions involved mention of T.N. Annandale, the first Director of the Zoological Survey, who had grown up near to us in Edinburgh. Asish never mentioned the fact that he had been one of Annandale’s successors.

He was a staunch defender of the interests of the researchers at the CED and worked diligently for the DECCMA project over the past four years. He will be greatly missed.

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DECCMA India and CARIAA partners release policy brief on migration

DECCMA India and the two other CARIAA projects that work in country, Adaptation at Scale in Arid and Semi-arid Regions (ASSAR) and Himalayan Adaptation Water and Resilience (HiAWARE)  have released a joint policy brief on migration. The policy brief synthesises research findings from across the projects, and was officially launched in Delhi on 4th May. Evidence from the three climate change hotspots (deltas, glacier-fed river basins and arid areas) shows that most migration is internal, undertaken by men, and to urban and peri-urban areas. Most migration is for economic reasons, and remittances from migration are important sources of income in migrant-sending areas. Environmental change is leading to displacement in some cases (e.g. from the eroding land in deltas), and in others contributes to the economic stresses that drive migration.

What Drives Government Decisions to (Not) Support Resettlement? New blog on by DECCMA researchers

by Colette Mortreux, Ricardo Safra de Campos and Neil Adger

[Reposted from]

Sea level rise, floods, and tropical cyclones are affecting the very land on which coastal and delta populations live. Loss of houses, infrastructure, and agricultural land prompts governments to consider options to fulfil their role in protecting their citizens. Planned relocations of people from one place to another are often politically controversial. However, whilst the pros and cons of resettlement decisions are often debated, less attention is paid to the consequences of not intervening.

International protocols exist to guide resettlement and planned location, but within individual states the decision is often political. In the Indian Sundarbans delta, the living conditions have become so precarious that communities are requesting government intervention, increasing the legitimacy of the resettlement. However, taking the example of three communities facing similar levels of threats, the response by government has not been correspondingly similar. So the question is – what determines whether or not governments take action, and the nature of that action?

Developing a model to explain government (in)action

In a new paper in Global Environmental Change we propose a conceptual model that is designed to explain government action or inaction with regard to planned relocation of vulnerable communities.

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The model takes into account three main factors: what a government wants to do, what it is obliged to do, and what populations demand from them. The model suggests that decisions to act or not act on relocation initiatives (as shown in section B) are driven by underlying political determinants (section A), leading to outcomes for the populations involved (section C). The pathways in the figure demonstrate the diversity of government responses, and what drives them, as well as the implications this can have on the communities affected by environmental change.


Figure 1: Conceptual model of planned relocation

Different approaches to relocation in the Indian Sundarbans delta

In the Sagar block of the Indian Sundarbans, there is a history of significant environment- displacement from coastal flooding, storm surges, erosion, and salinization. The number of people displaced since the 1970s is estimated to be around 4,000 from Ghoramara and Lohachara. Various resettlement programs have been used in the past. Recently, the communities of Ghoramara, Beguakhali and Dhablat have all demanded action, yet government responses to displacement have been diverse. In Ghoromara, there has been sustained government action to formally settle those displaced by erosion. In Beguakhali, the government has not formally resettled displaced households, but has invested in large-scale coastal embankments to protect the community. In Dhablat, the government has taken no action.


Figure 2: Location of the communities in the Sagar block, Indian Sundarbans delta

Planned resettlement from Ghoromara

Resettlement from Ghoromara began in 1977 after the government of West Bengal declared it a “no man’s land” because of the high rates of erosion. The recently elected communist government of West Bengal declared a relocation policy in which land, and sometimes housing, were provided to resettled communities. But resettlement was not without problems. Some of the allocated land was saline and useless for farming. There was also tension with host communities in Sagar island, who resented the support provided to the former-Ghoromara residents.

Avoided resettlement: constructing an embankment to protect communities in Beguakhali

In Beguakhali the government has had a very different response to environmental pressures on the land. A coastal embankment was built and disaster relief provided in cases of breach, for example, after the major cyclone, Aila, in 2009. However, the embankment construction was primarily motivated by the government of India’s decision to develop a deep-sea port in Beguakhali for the transport of coal and iron – although this has not yet started.

Dhablat: no government action to environmental pressures

In Dhablat, 10 kilometers east of Beguakhali, the government provided disaster relief after successive embankment breaches.  However, unlike Beguakhali, there has been no commitment to rebuild the embankment nor, as in Ghoromara, support for relocation. One resident explained that flooding can leave them waist deep in water in their house. Many that can afford to do so have migrated out, leaving a small ‘trapped population.’

Linking to the model: reasons for different government responses

Tracing the model back from the different outcomes in each community highlights the interplay of different factors that led to the action/inaction.  In Ghoromara, the newly-installed communist government was keen to show commitment to land redistribution and social welfare, creating a powerful incentive for government action.

This political change likely played a big role in overcoming the risk aversion and reluctance for action that often characterizes government response. This risk aversion was more evident in Begukhali, where embankment reconstruction also served the additional purpose of enabling the port construction, thus fitting with broader development goals.  In Dhablat, the remaining trapped population are highly marginalized and lack sufficient voice to hold government accountable for inaction.

Implications for relocation elsewhere

Climate change will exacerbate the environmental pressures that create cause for relocation. To date, the focus on relocation action by government overlooks inaction. Our model provides a mechanism to analyze these decisions.

Ultimately, inaction on resettlement can give rise to other public policy issues. As shown in Dhablat, for example, lack of response by government tends to lead to migration of individuals and households of their own accord – thereby altering the requirements for public infrastructure and services in their new locations. However, the capacity to migrate is dependent on resources, which means that trapped populations become concentrated in marginal and risky environments. Here they are likely to require regular disaster relief and measures for poverty alleviation.

For further information:

“Migration always good? There’s no straight answer” published on

by Rituparna Hajra and Tuhin Ghosh

A piece by Rituparna Hajra and DECCMA Co-PI Tuhin Ghosh entitled “Migration always good? There’s no straight answer” has been published on the website thethirdpole.netThe Third Pole is a multilingual platform dedicated to promoting information and discussion about the Himalayan watershed and the rivers that originate there. The article explains how climate change is forcing people out of the Sundarbans, and 75% of those left behind depend on remittances, while they face labour shortages in their own farms.

As agricultural productivity flounders in the Sundarbans, unskilled labour is all the residents have to sell (image by Mike Prince as published on


“We need to give our citizens a safe place to stay” How government is relocating coastal communities affected by loss of land in the Mahanadi delta, India

by Sumana Banerjee, Sumanta Banerjee, Dr R N Samal and Dr Tuhin Ghosh

Separated by thousands of miles but united by a common environmental fate, like the Pacific island nation of Kiribati which is facing the risk of being engulfed by rising seas, the Satavaya Gram Panchayat within India’s Mahanadi Delta has lost eleven villages to the sea. Recognising the threats to their citizens, the state government of Odisha has taken a pioneering and “humanitarian approach” to relocation, providing new homes and ensuring that appropriate livelihood support is available in the places where displaced communities are resettled.  Read more in a new photostory.

Encroaching sands threaten houses in Satavaya Gram Panchayat

The Changing Footprint in Indian Bengal Delta (IBD) (Sundarban)

By Subhas C Acharyya, Sumana Banerjee, and Dr Tuhin Ghosh.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

The Darwin Correspondence Project of the University of Cambridge has revealed that this quote is wrongly attributed to Charles Darwin as it has evolved out of a paraphrase of Darwin in writings of Leon C. Megginson, Professor of Management and Marketing at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge (1). Whether paraphrased or not, the essence of the quote highlights that the survival of species is dependent on its ability to adapt to change. The land use changes that the Indian Bengal Delta has been undergoing shall be documented in this post and it shall be explored whether the landscape is adapting to change and surviving or failing to adapt but trying hard to keep pace with the changes.

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Sundarbans Land TransformationThis land’s journey through changes shall be narrated in sections and we begin with the formation of the land. More than 70 million years ago, when silt carried down by the Ganges and Brahmaputra River systems deposited continuously in areas of Bangladesh and India, it formed the Sundarban delta region which now lies on either side of an international boundary. This act of deposition was assisted by the back feeding of tidal actions from the sea face. Both fluvial and marine land building processes have simultaneously been at work with cyclical advancement and retreat of sea during past geological ages. The sea face gradually retreated southwards and sedimentation continued to build new land on the continental shelf. Our focus will be on the Sundarban deltaic region in India which is a part of the Indian Bengal Delta. The Indian part of Sundarbans measures a total area of 9630 sq. km which lies between 21 32’ and 22 40’ north latitude and between 88 05’ and 89 00’ east longitude. The region is bounded by the river Hooghly on the west, Bay of Bengal on the south, Ichhamati- Kalindi-Raimongal on the east and the Dampier-Hodges Line on the north. When Nature embarks on a building process, she does not leave things incomplete. After building a piece of land, nature went on to build mangroves whom she appointed as gatekeepers of her first creation. Mangroves are multifarious as they can derive their nourishment from both oceanic and terrestrial water, as well as from the saline soils and can also regenerate naturally. The Indian part of Sundarbans had 102 isolated islands mostly covered with mangrove forests. The Sundarban mangrove ecosystem is unique in the world because of its diversity of habits.

From Forest to Agriculture

Nature is a hard worker and continues to work hard but mankind is not so kind after all and manages to interfere with nature’s processes. During the late 1700s, this deltaic region, being a part of the undivided India, was under the rule of the British East India Company who undertook plans for reclamation of these mangrove forest lands and to transfer these lands under cultivation. These low-lying tracts were occupied, where the delta building processes had not been over and circuit embankments were constructed to grab the forest land. The process of clearing the forests continued till 1878 and the remaining forest was declared “Reserved” or “Protected”. In the mid-1900s, large scale land reclamation occurred owing to the incidence of Partition in 1947, where this region experienced a huge influx of refugees from the newly created East Pakistan to West Bengal. Subsequently 54 islands out of 102 had been reclaimed, mainly for human settlements and agricultural operations. While this human intervention was occurring, nature did not throw a tantrum for toying with her plans but did her best to provide support. By virtue of the monsoon rain, these saline soils became cultivable with rice. The lands were protected by embankments where the accumulating rain water helped to dissolve the nutrients in the soil and made the rice farming sustainable. This could have been an end of land transformation and thereby the happily-ever-after but life in the delta is a bit more challenging which will lead us to the next step of land transformation.

From Agriculture to Fisheries

The Sundarbans region of the Indian Bengal Delta saw a growth of population which could not sustain itself on the mono-cropped rice based agrarian economy. Low per capita land and poor cropping intensity worsened the situation. The poverty level started becoming very high. Under these pressures, the farming communities started exploring avenues to shift livelihoods through harnessing natural resources namely forest resources and aquatic & marine resources. The situation may be defined as – land surplus to land scarcity and labour scarcity to labour surplus. Brackish water fisheries (Bheries) with monoculture of tiger prawn (Peneaous monodon) emerged as a lucrative option for the people. Large tracts of agricultural lands were transformed to brackish water fisheries in north and central blocks of the Sundarban region by breaching embankments and letting the saline water into the cultivable lands. The prospect of exporting these cultivated prawns attracted money and muscle power in this transformation process. The agriculture-based landscape in seven blocks had been changed to brackish water fish farms which altered the socio-economic set up of the area. Yet again, this could have been an end of the land transformation process but the challenge faced from this transformation was the harbinger of the next transformation.

From Aquaculture to Brick Kiln

While the commercial aquaculture farming was emerging successful, the area saw an out flux of people as the agricultural labour went out of jobs as the labour requirement for fishery operation was lesser than that of crop husbandry. The happy state of affairs of the export-oriented commercial aquaculture farming in Sundarbans began to decline in the course of time for various reasons, such as decreasing productivity, disease infestation in fish stock, non-availability of quality brood stock, increasing cost factors, failure to export, etc. The fishery operators now changed gear and focused on the thriving brick manufacturing industry with political patronage. The brick field owners used the opportunity and cooked the land owners to give away their lands on higher lease rents for operating brick kilns in the aquaculture farms. The intending operators procured permission from local self-governments to start brick kilns. Over the past few years, hundreds of such brick kilns have rapidly cropped up in these areas and is gradually becoming a feature of the Sundarban landscape. The conical chimneys standing around 100’ tall with thick black smoke billowing out of them is polluting the air in adjacent areas. Having traced a trajectory till the present time, the story of transformation of this landscape will pause here.

Going back to the quote with which we began this post, it brings two contrasting thoughts to mind. The land of the Sundarban delta having undergone changes, from the green verge of deep mangrove forests to rice fields to supporting brackish aquaculture farms and finally giving way to brick kilns, is proof that it has survived. But the costs for this survival should be examined. When a lot of costs are involved, it makes us think if this survival is at all adapting to change or whether it is a frantic scratching the walls of the well before getting lost in the bottomless pit. The Sundarban region of the Indian Bengal Delta emerges as an adult who in spite of being shattered from within, puts up a brave front in times of loss.

We hope for a change in this landscape where we put efforts to make a sustainable living and give something back to nature who can rebuild this landscape the way she envisaged hundreds of years ago. Before the future landscape comprises only of ruins of brick kiln structures with heaps of burnt soil alongside huge unproductive water bodies, we need to think of corrective measures. We still have the luxury to imagine lush green forests with a range of flora and fauna when we hear Sundarbans. It will be a pity if our future generations use only the black, brown, and grey crayons to colour a Sundarban of their times.


1. The evolution of a misquotation [Internet]. Darwin Correspondence Project. 2017 [cited 24 March 2017]. Available from:

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Gender and Climate Change addressed for the first time at the XV National Conference on Women’s Studies, India

Inaugural session of the conference

Inaugural session of the conference

Gender and women’s rights are being increasingly addressed worldwide through movements and media, which are inspired by the realm of women’s studies. While this change is a welcome one, it also has to be kept in mind that the challenges and disparities still remain and a long way has to be traversed. At this juxtaposition of phenomenon, the Indian Association for Women’s Studies (IAWS) organised the XV National Conference on Women’s Studies at the University of Madras, Chennai from 22 – 25 January 2017 with a theme “Women in a Changing World: Restructured inequalities, counter currents and Sites of Resistance”.

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The conference had a number of sessions focussing on themes related to women’s issues however the theme on “Gender and Climate Change” was introduced for the first time in an IAWS conference. Dr Amrita Patel (DECCMA) and Prof Nitya Rao (ASSAR) were the convenors of this sub-theme. Dr Patel chaired General Sessions, Prof Rao chaired sessions on Energy and Adaptation and Prof Asha Hans (DECCMA) also chaired a session on Flood and Deltas.

With two members from Sansristi as Session-chairs and four researchers as paper-presenters, DECCMA objectives and research undertaken were disseminated well. Brief summaries of the presentations are as follows:

Farha Naaz (Centre for Environment and Development) presented a paper titled “Climate Change and Adaptation: Strategy and coping mechanism – Role of women Self Help Groups in Indian Bengal Delta”. The presentation was based on the work done earlier by CED but the study area is a part of the DECCMA Study Area. DECCMA research studies the impacts of climate change on deltaic populations and involves having baseline knowledge on migration and adaptation initiatives taking place in the study areas and this study corroborates that. The presentation discussed the post-2009 Cyclone Aila scenario in IBD where male migration is on the rise as the delta in becoming increasingly vulnerable and the women who are left behind are tasked to take on more responsibility of the household looking after both the elderly and the children. In such a situation, Women Self Help Groups (SHGs) started acting as powerful means of social development and an important tool of micro financing. The scheme of micro financing through SHGs has given significant economic power to the hands of women thereby elevating the economic status of their families.

Gender and climate change session in progress

Gender and climate change session in progress

Jasmine Giri (Sansristi) presented a paper titled “Climate change effects on women: a case study of Odisha”. DECCMA has a strong focus on gender in its research components and this presentation based on secondary analysis examined the impact of disasters on women’s livelihood in Jagatsingpur district of Odisha. The paper relied on secondary data to identify the impact of disasters in the district and its effect on women’s livelihood, particularly after the super cyclone Kalinga in 1999. The dominant livelihood in Jagatsingpur area is agriculture and fisheries and thus the community, specifically the women are vulnerable to the slightest changes in the availability or access to these natural resources. The coping mechanisms adopted by women in such a situation were also shared.

Sukanya Banerjee (Centre for Environment and Development) presented a paper titled “Climate Change and Male Migration: Role of Women in the Changed Environ”. During the presentation, DECCMA’s overview was shared followed by the adverse impacts of Climate Change on the vulnerable Indian Bengal Delta (IBD) and its people. This presentation was also based on work done earlier by CED but the study area is a part of the DECCMA Study Area and the study was adapted to this presentation to throw light on DECCMA’s research questions pertaining to migration. The paper primarily focused on the fact that cyclone Aila wreaked havoc in IBD in 2009 as a result of which many people lost their livelihoods and 50% of able bodied males were compelled to migrate out of their homes to as many as 10 different states in India to work as unskilled labour in the real estate sector. The regular remittances which they send to their families as a result of this ‘climate induced’ migration has brought about a significant change in the social construct of the area. The women of the households were suddenly burdened with a new sense of responsibility in the form of being the new household heads in the absence of the male members of their families. The need for empowerment of women was also focused on to adapt to climate change.

Sumanta Banerjee (Chilika Development Authority) presented a paper titled “Linking Women Empowerment, Resilience in the context of Climate change: A case study of Bhusandapur in the shore of Chilika lake of Odisha” which aimed to conceptualize and understand the links of women’s empowerment and resilience in the context of the climate change. This presentation was based on Focus Group Discussions conducted in Bhusandapur village of Tangi block in Khordha district of Odisha. The environmental fragility of the study area was explained in the context of indicators of climate variability and then with the help of women’s empowerment framework by Longwe (1995), the paper looked at resilience as the result of absorptive, adaptive, and transformative capacities. The absorptive and adaptive capacities responses were captured and subsequently with the help of an example the transition phase of the Bhusandapur village was explained. Then, the successful case study of tent-house and Dry-fish business led by women’s organization in the context of climate change adaptation was linked with the primary objective of the study.

All the researchers felt that interactions with other researchers and attending relevant lectures helped them to gain a deeper understanding on the issues plaguing women in a changing world, be it employment, inequalities, discrimination, violence or women farmers (labour, livelihoods and resource rights). Case studies as shared by the speakers helped to bring together instances from across the country to one platform. In the theme Session 10 on Climate Change, discussions focussed on the impacts of climate change on health, socio economic conditions, particularly on women, and the risks and vulnerabilities that women face in the context of climate change. Adaptation strategies, coping mechanisms and approaches of mitigation were also discussed. This theme did not have as many presentations as compared to the other themes which may throw some light on the need to bring attention to the emerging issue of how a changing climate can have differential impacts based on gender. However, akin to a baby’s first step where the effort has to be continued to make sure the wobbliness disappears, this effort of addressing gender and climate change has to be continued to make our concerns visible.

This post was written with contributions from reports written by Dr Amrita Patel, Prof Nitya Rao, Ms Farha Naaz, Ms Jasmine Giri, Ms Sukanya Banerjee and Mr Sumanta Banerjee.

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