Saturday, September 26, 2020 | ePaper

Population Displacement An Environmental Catastrophe Need To halt

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The increasing occurrence of natural and human-made disasters, including armed conflicts, is causing extensive loss of life, damage to property, and harm to the environment. Conflicts and natural disasters are resulting displacements of populations, creating a crisis which do not necessarily remain within the country's own borders, but will often spread within the a region causing refugee flows into neighboring countries, further advancing economic and political instability. The number and nature of armed conflicts has changed significantly in recent years. Today's conflicts are mostly fought within country's boundaries, whereas in the past wars took place across them. Wars are no longer fought only on battlefields between large armies; rather, they are often waged in cities and villages by amateur militia, driven by long-simmering ethnic and religious ideologies and fuelled by a struggle for political and economic control. As a result, more than 90 % of the victims of today's wars are civilians. 40 million refugees are in need of protection and assistance right now. An additional 20 to 25 million people are currently displaced within their own countries as a result of climate change, violence and human rights abuses.
In Bangladesh, 35 million people still live below the poverty line and the number of rural poor has increased. Subdivision of productive agricultural lands from one generation to another has increased the number of marginal farmers and rural landless. As population grows, their numbers will also increase. Lacking assets, they will look to nature for their survival. People push into fragile ecosystems. They till marginal lands, destroy forests, overfish and overgraze. The existence of human being is dependent upon the food chain created by flora and fauna. But overuse of these natural resources is mainly responsible for loss of biodiversity. Such activities go over the carrying capacity of the local environment. The deteriorated ecosystem is less productive and has less to offer to the people who are dependent on it. Thus, the poverty trap only deepens. The rapid increase of population in the urban areas is changing the scenario of housing, sanitation, water, energy and living condition. As they do not have enough sewerage systems and garbage disposal facilities, the wastes generated by their day to day living only help pollute their environment. In rural areas - commercialization of agriculture, contract farming, commercial cultivation in forest area, hill cutting, extraction and depletion of groundwater, land degradation, shrimp farming by encroaching crop fields as well as at urban areas - inadequate and poor housing, about 35% people city dwellers are living in over 1300 slums in Dhaka city, urban waste generation,  poor sanitation, lower quality of waste/effluent treatment systems, air and water pollution, faulty transport system both has already accelerated environmental degradation of our country.   
Environmental displacement is alarming for Bangladesh. Floods, severe cyclones, water logging, salinity intrusions, droughts and river bank erosion which induce mass population displacement. By the year of 2020, 78 million people can be displaced. On the other hand, displacement can be in such ways- vested property act, migration politics, demographic engineering, ethnic conflict, anti agricultural product pricing system, political influence of rent-seekers. Social research has generated large bodies of empirical findings proving that many population groups, including but not limited to tribal groups, are materially impoverished and made worse off by the introduction of "restriction of access" to natural resources, either under some development projects or by establishing parks and protected areas (PA) for biodiversity conservation. This convincing social and environmental evidence has long been overlooked by governments and development agencies. However, a significant change, still little known, has recently taken place. This change, analyzed further, consists in a conceptual and policy revision adopted by the multilateral development agencies. The revised policy conceptually redefines "are not restricted access" to certain natural resources as a form of involuntary displacement, even if the affected groups physically relocated.
The risks of impoverishment caused by access-restriction even in non-physical displacement are severe and must be recognized, counteracted and prevented. The new policy on access-restriction recognized as displacement is backed up by institutionalized new approaches, examined further, and multiplies the practical options for compensation and for the economic rebuilding of livelihoods. In sum, the essence of the policy change we discuss, as conceptualized and adopted by the multilateral  development agencies, consists in two elements: First, it defines the imposition of "restricted access" to certain resources in protected areas as a form of involuntary population displacement. Second, the new policy broadens the definition of "Population displacement" beyond its usual acceptation as geographic relocation, to include also occupational and economic dislocation not necessarily accompanied by the geographic relocation of the local users.  
The determination of the magnitude of environmentally induced displacements is probably the most contentious issue in environment-migration matters. Measurement problems may arise from different sources, among them: lack of a clear definition of environmentally induced displacements; the use of broad concepts of climate migrants; the complexity of linking migration responses to environmental events; assessments build on general assumptions on human behavior; lack of consideration of changes in human behavior leading to different adaptive practices; lack of recognition that climate change may be one reason to migrate, but not the only one and often not the most important; the general scarcity of migration data, particularly longitudinal data and data from developing regions; the use of different information sources (broad-ranging global prognosis on population growth, climate change and resource constraints, or national or local studies of specific situations)
The attribution of population displacement to environmental stressors is a delicate task, as many and very diverse scientific disciplines are involved, and ample agreement seems to be limited to the acknowledgement that a relationship exits. This review of topics considered relevant for the discussion of this subject, including definitions, types of displacement, magnitude of the flows, linking mechanisms, methods, policy issues, security concerns, and a first glimpse at regional variations. We need to understand that 'sustainability' is ultimately about optimizing human experience, especially well-being, health and survival. This requires changes in social and political organization and in how we design and manage our communities. We must live within the biosphere's limits. Health promotion should therefore address those emerging population health influences that transcend both national boundaries and generations. The central task is to promote sustainable environmental and social conditions that confer enduring and equitable gains in population health. In post-disaster situations, solutions to insure the restoration of normal lives of displaced populations are interwoven in such a manner that activities cannot be implemented in isolation. Multi-sectoral and interdisciplinary nature of resettlement activities requires continuous interaction, co-operation and partnership among concerned stakeholders in order to assure sound human settlements for displaced populations through promotion of peace building, poverty reduction and sustainable development.

(Shishir Reza is an Environmental Analyst & Associate Member, Bangladesh Economic Association).

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