Climate Change, Migration and Conflict: A study of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in Bangladesh

Author: MD Rafiqul Islam

Islam, MD Rafiqul, 2019 Climate Change, Migration and Conflict: A study of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in Bangladesh, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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This thesis explores the relationship between climate change induced migration and conflict. The case study is Bangladesh, one of the most climate change affected countries in the world, which has experienced long-standing ethno-political conflict in the region known as the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). The people worst affected by climatic events such as floods, cyclone, sea-level rise and disasters lose their livelihood options and houses, and many of them are forced to migrate to cities or rural areas that are less prone to climatic events, such as the hilly region of the CHT. In the 1980s and 1990s, with state support, a rapidly growing number of Bengalis migrated to the CHT for permanent settlement. Fieldwork conducted for this thesis in the CHT revealed that for the majority of Bengali research participants, climatic events played a significant role in their decision to migrate after experiencing recurrent crop failure and the destruction of their houses and land. Poverty rendered people unable to cope with climatic events, and institutional support for those displaced by climate events was almost entirely lacking. Bengali settlement in the CHT influenced the ethno-political conflict from 1975 to 1997 and now contributes to social conflict between Bengali and tribal people. Data collected from Bengali and tribal respondents show a widespread perception that the CHT is plagued by resource capture, insecurity, discrimination, mistrust and violence between the communities. Although the CHT Peace Accord has put an end to state-sponsored migration, Bengali migration continues through social networks and family connections. Bengali settlers and tribal people have become the main actors competing for resources, social positions, and cultural and political power in the CHT, which causes social conflict between the communities. Both the ethno-political conflict in the pre Peace Accord and social conflict in the post Peace Accord period are connected to the environment and climate change induced Bengali migration to the CHT.

By exploring the role climatic events have played in migration to the CHT and the impacts on the ethnic minority people in this region, this thesis contributes to the understanding of the linkages of climate change, migration and conflict. It advances the argument that climate change induced migration of people with a different background to an ethnically distinctive region can become an important source of conflict and violence between the host people and migrants. The findings can assist policy-makers in developing ways to better manage the predicted increase in internal migration due to climate change, and to address the core issues in the CHT conflict.

Keywords: Climate Change, Migration, Conflict, Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh

Subject: Development Studies thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2019
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Professor Susanne Schech