Climate-Induced Migration in Pakistan

Pakistan has been ranked among the top ten countries most vulnerable to climate change. Countries like Pakistan with low climate resilience, poor governance and weak infrastructure face multiple challenges in adapting to climate change. According to the Global Climate Risk Index, between 1999 to 2018, Pakistan witnessed 152 extreme weather events with the loss of 9,989 lives. Blistering heat waves, torrential rains, lingering dry spells and water shortage have further exacerbated the governance challenges in Pakistan. However, another significant climate impact that has been overlooked and understudied, especially in Pakistan, is climate-induced migration. The last decade has seen a growth in climate migrants, moving towards urban cities due to weather calamities. Approximately 2 million people in Pakistan are expected to become climate migrants by 2050 due to climate disasters. Another report by Action Aid suggests that even with emission reduction, 600,000 people will get displaced due to climate events by 2030.

The patterns of forced climate displacement and migration can be observed in every province of Pakistan with varying causes. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit Baltistan residents migrate seasonally or permanently due to Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF), flash or riverine flooding. The floods of 2010 in the northern belt of Pakistan were one of the worst climate disasters caused by flash and riverine flooding. More than 20 million people came under the umbrella of climate displaced persons, while the death toll climbed to 2000. The following year, torrential rains led to flash floods in southern Sindh and adjoining areas of Punjab and Balochistan, affecting the lives of 9.6 million people. 2012 was no different from its last two years as monsoon flooding affected the lives of 4.5 million residents of Sindh and Balochistan. Sea intrusion in the coastal areas of Sindh is also destroying arable land due to deforestation, causing migration of local communities. According to various reports, Thatta and Badin, cities of Sindh, will be submerged in the sea by 2050. This will lead to a massive internal displacement of climate victims.

Drought and water shortage are other causal factors behind climate-induced migration, especially in Balochistan and Sindh. Since 2000, droughts and dry spells have affected the livelihood of millions of locals. It has amplified food insecurity to the level of famine and mortality. Water scarcity has also become fatal for the locals’ livestock. This has led to the seasonal migration by the residents to other cities to earn their living. Two patterns have been observed in seasonal migration. First, whole families migrate to areas where basic necessities and economic opportunities are available such as Kholi and Bheel communities. Second, only men of families migrate to find job opportunities to feed their families. In 2018, 33,000 residents of Noshki village of Balochistan had to migrate to other districts due to severe drought and water shortage. This year, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has listed Pakistan among 23 countries facing drought emergencies in the past two years. The condition has worsened due to unsustainable land management practices that have resulted in desertification and land degradation.

Approximately 2 million people in Pakistan are expected to become climate migrants by 2050 due to climate disasters.

It is important to note that climate-induced migration is not a gender-neutral phenomenon. It affects women, men and children differently. Women and children are the most vulnerable groups to climate migration. Research indicates that women migrants get deprived of education and face serious health issues due to malnourishment, increased workload, and other economic challenges. Also, women face sexual assault and harassment in both cases, i.e., when only their male family members migrate or when the entire family migrates. Likewise, the children are compelled to enter the labour force to share the family burden. Poor transportation makes families’ migration difficult and time-consuming, affecting their health. Inadequate health facilities at the migration camps and the unavailability of medicines to deal with the most prevalent diseases among climate migrants, such as diarrhoea, respiratory infections, skin diseases and eye infections, results in casualties. These issues are relevant to the three types of climate migration witnessed in Pakistan over the last decade. The types of climate migration include:

  1. Permanent Migration: Women migrate with their entire family to some other location for permanent residence
  2. Temporary Migration: Families migrate to another location for some period and then return to their original place of residency. During flash and riverine flooding between 2010 and 2014, many families migrated to other sites until their actual residential areas were rebuilt and restructured.
  3. Seasonal Migration: Seasonal migration is the periodic movement of a population from one location to another according to their changing weather condition. It is most prevalent in Pakistan. Residents from Skardu, Chitral, and Gilgit move to urban cities or areas with viable economic opportunities during extreme weather conditions. The same is the case in Sindh and Balochistan, where the residents of villages migrate to Karachi or other cities for employment and food.

Apart from the challenges faced by the migrants, many argue that climate-induced migration is a security threat to the indigenous communities where migrants settle. Indigenous communities feel threatened by migrants from different ethnicity and culture occupying their jobs. According to a study in which district Thatta was selected as a sample area, it was argued and proved that the lack of resources causes conflict between the migrants and the host community, especially where population density is high. The rapidly growing population due to economic or climate migrants in the urban cities causes energy insecurity and water shortage mainly due to poor governance and management by the concerned stakeholders.

In conclusion, good governance and management are the first steps toward reducing climate-induced migration. Most climate problems, be it climate migration, water scarcity, deforestation, soil erosion or flooding, have intensified due to mismanagement, weak infrastructure and poor governance. Adapting to climate problems needs advanced research, political will, investment, and revamping archaic infrastructure and impractical policies in all concerned institutions, including agriculture, water and energy sectors.

Neha Nisar

Neha Nisar is a graduate of Peace and Conflict Studies, National Defence University, Islamabad. She serves as a Research Assistant at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research.

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