Studies conducted at local and national levels, reports published worldwide and assessments by global organisations reiterate that Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries due to adverse impact of anthropogenic climate change. One of the crucial aspects of vulnerability that people of Small Islands and low lying countries including Bangladesh will have to contest is ‘displacement’. Civil and political societies including the political authority of the country aren’t unaware about this approaching disaster. Consequently, they urged global leadership to initiate appropriate measures for tackling the depressing future. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina recently stated again, “Since Bangladesh is likely to have huge human displacement due to climate change, we want establishment of an international regime under the UN to tackle the situation.”
One must appreciate the PM for the statement she made before a global audience. However, the extent of the problem demands some specific action rather than making statements. The actions should be set off at local, national, regional and international levels. Still it’s not clear whether the political authority has identified strategies and contributing activities for the respective areas of engagement.
National Strategies may consider the following propositions.
An intense national consultative process to devise national strategies could be kicked off under the scope of Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP) 2009. Among others, the consultative process must include affected people, their local governments and scientists. These strategies should guide the national vision and plans including the perspective plan, five year plan and annual budget, as well as sector specific policies. The long pending draft of ‘Disaster Management Act (DMA)’ must be passed and implemented as early as possible.
Existing social safety net programmes should be realigned to support the displaced people. The government may initiate special safety net program to reach people displaced by riverbank and coastal erosion, cyclone and slow onset process including water logging and salinity intrusion. The ‘ashrayan’ program must provide access to options for people’s livelihoods. Government must ensure that UN’s ‘Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement’ is valued by all implementing agencies associated with the movement, resettlement, rehabilitation and reintegration of displaced people.
Sub-Paragraph F of Paragraph 14 of the Cancun Agreement adopted at the sixteenth Conference of Parties (COP16) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in December 2010 brings an opportunity before vulnerable countries to shape national and international programs under ‘adaptation framework’ and negotiate support for the implementation of those programs. The text ensures “measures to enhance understanding, coordination and cooperation with regard to climate change induced displacement, migration and planned relocation, where appropriate, at the national, regional and international levels.” Now it’s the responsibility of the negotiators of the vulnerable countries to engage with vigorous negotiations to secure programs and support for the displaced people, as well as to combat the situation that will force people to leave their habitat.
Following the statements delivered by political authority, the government must make a formal submission to the UN for the ‘establishment of an international regime under the UN’. Such a submission will make it clear that the government is serious and wants to go beyond rhetoric. The submission may refer to the ‘Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement’ and voluntary measures taken by different countries, e.g. Migration (Climate Refugees) Amendment Bill 2007 of Australia that creates a new visa category for the displaced people.
In addition to four major propositions stated above, the government must explore all possible opportunities at regional and global level.
South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) could be an important forum to discuss this as displacement harms stability, peace and security for communities, states and regions. An amendment to the Geneva Convention (1951) may include additional connotation to the term ‘refugee’ to address the issue of displaced people. Bangladesh must focus more on the same while coordinating the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) and contributing the negotiating positions of Least-Developed Countries (LDCs) at different UN processes including UNFCCC. National strategies for the facilitation of internal and international migration of displaced people may extended to trade and development programs as well, thus, institutions like UNCTAD could be a helpful one. Displaced people should be considered as ‘Universal Natural Person’ and consequently receive special support from national government to get access to global service sector under the mode four of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
It is expected that the government will be able to understand the propositions, facilitate a national process to assess the situation and initiate discussions, dialogues and negotiations at all possible forums.
Ziaul Hoque Mukta is the Regional Policy Coordinator for Oxfam GB Asia. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.