Via Strategic Forecast, a detailed look at Bangladesh’s water, migration, and security concerns. As the article notes:
“…Bangladesh shares around 4,095km of its border with India. Over the years cross border migration from Bangladesh to India has taken place owing to a combination of economic and political factors. Currently, an estimated 20 million Bangladeshis illegally stay in India. In recent years, an increased and sustained movement of people from Bangladesh to India has taken place as a result of factors other than economic, social or political. The main driver of cross border migration has been the environment, which includes the absence of adequate freshwater resources.
An estimated 500,000 people migrate from the rural areas to Dhaka city every year due to climate induced factors. The population of Bangladesh which is estimated to be 200 million by 2030 will have over 80 million people living in urban slums. An increase of this magnitude implies that there will be less per capita water availability per person. In addition, there will be a strain on existing natural resources, especially water. Growing water scarcity driven largely by decreasing quantity and quality will exacerbate the problem of cross border migration in the future.
Approximately 200,000 people in Bangladesh are affected by arsenic induced cancer every year. However, more than 95 percent of the country’s population continues to depend on groundwater resources in the absence of access to safe surface water resources. In addition, of the 8.4 million hectares of arable land more than half the land area is under irrigation. Unrestricted exploitation of groundwater for irrigation has caused heavy deposits of arsenic substances in vast tracts of the cultivable land. Continued use of arsenic contaminated water for irrigation and domestic purposes will have adverse impacts not just on crop productivity but also on health. It is estimated that around 85 million people of the country are at risk of exposure to arsenic contamination. This will further motivate people to migrate in search of better livelihood. Moreover, groundwater resources are increasingly contaminated through penetration of surface water pollution in the aquifers, which further threatens the water security in the country.
A large portion of the country is less than 10 meters above sea level. Around 31 upazillas (subdivision of a district) of Jessore, Khulna, Bagerhat and Gopalganj districts already face severe salinity problems, with saline water flowing up to 240km inland during the dry season. Salinity intrusion in the coastal districts of Bangladesh has resulted in loss of existing agricultural land forcing people to permanently migrate in search of employment opportunities. It is estimated that 2-5 per cent of Bangladesh will remain permanently inundated due to rise in sea levels in the next 20 to 40 years. As a result, salinity ingression will move further inland affecting more fresh water resources and thereby forcing people to migrate internally and across borders.
Lack of freshwater resources, therefore, is a massive threat and will remain a primary reason for cross border migration in the future. India has initiated steps to curtail the illegal movement of people by constructing a fence along the India-Bangladesh border. While the purpose of this is to stop the current illegal migration, Bangladesh’s vulnerability to climate change could drive millions across the border. The forced migration of people as a result of water scarcity and climate change will hamper growth and prompt a wide range of security issues for India as well as the region.
Bangladeshi migrants form a cheap source of manual labor compared to their Indian counterparts. As more people are forced to migrate from Bangladesh, the economic security and livelihood of the poorer sections in India will be threatened as a result of loss of job opportunities. In states like Assam, Meghalaya and Nagaland, some Bangladeshi migrants have obtained Indian citizenship by producing false documents. This makes them eligible for benefits under the national employment schemes and other development schemes in India resulting in the drain of available national and local resources in the country. The dissatisfaction among the poorer and weaker sections of the society over resource sharing could likely give rise to violence and conflict in the country.
The issue of an increase in illegal, poor migrants from Bangladesh will undoubtedly have an implication on South Asian security in general and India’s national security in particular. The poor and impoverished people who are forced to move out of Bangladesh, in the absence of social and economic rights in India may be motivated to join the insurgent movements or engage in local thefts and crimes. On the other hand, weak political and economic institutions in Bangladesh are likely to aid insurgency activities in the region. There is strong evidence of insurgent groups such as the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC), National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN-IM) and the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) having operational presence and camps in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. These groups, in addition, procure weapons from border regions shared between Myanmar and Bangladesh. The growing organized nature of insurgency could be detrimental to the security in the future for India and Bangladesh.
In the context of the evolving nature of various security threats from within and across the border in India and Bangladesh, it becomes important to understand the seriousness of the future water crisis and its potential impact on the poorer sections of the society. India and Bangladesh must manage bilateral security concerns effectively through stronger political commitments. For this, they have to proactively tackle the issue of water crisis as an issue of immediate concern.”
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