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ICE Case Studies
Number 229, December, 2010

Climate Change Induced Extreme Weather Events & Sea Level Rise in Bangladesh leading to Migration and Conflict

William Alex Litchfield

I. Case Background
II. Environment Aspect
III. Conflict Aspect
IV. Env. - Conflict Overlap
V. Related Information


flag bangladesh I. CASE BACKGROUND

1. Abstract

The presupposition investigated within this case, is that climate change induced migration will lead to violent conflict in Bangladesh, and the border lying areas of India. Climate change will have an adverse effect upon the amount of agriculture produced within Bangladesh, as well as the possibility of destroying necessary infrastructure for people to live. Thus, people will be forced to migrate either within the borders of Bangladesh or to adjacent countries. This has the real possibility of instigating conflict, in India Bangladeshis are treated as second-class citizens, and are often viewed as a threat. Furthermore, there have already been clashes between Bangladeshis within their own borders when migration takes place, and people view the migrants as a threat to their livelihood.

2. Description

Climate change has the ability to induce greater instances of extreme weather events in the short-term, such as more intense cyclones which can lead to intense storm surges, or variablity in temperature and precipitation which can lead to draughts and flooding. In the long-term, according to the IPCC climate change will cause sea level rise. The result of seal level rise on the low lying coastal areas of Bangladesh may cause loss of agriculture, livelihood, and forced migration. This is within a country with overpopulation and many cases of extreme poverty.

The loss of agriculture and fresh water resources due to salinity intrusion and water inundation will have a negative effect upon the total amount of food and fresh water in Bangladesh. These impacts coupled with an increasing population will lead to increasing food prices through general supply and demand priniciples. This may lead to conflict over food and water due to resource scarcity and rising food costs. Furthermore, this will lead to less arable land and a loss of livelihoods. Thus, people will be forced to migrate northwards into Dhaka and potentially into the neighboring country of India. This may be a source of conflict, as India currently has a 12ft tall border fence along the extent of the border with Bangladesh, and is protected and patroled by the Indian Army.

causal loop2

(Figure 1. Causal diagram)

Within this causal diagram, there are different forces that the effects of climate change will have an effect upon the people of Bangladesh, which will continue to grow exponentially.  It has been proven that an increase in temperature of water within the ocean will lead to sea level rise.  A large portion of the population of Bangladesh lives within a zone of five meters above sea level or less.  If the sea level were to rise, this would cause this land to be lost to the sea, and further affect the levels of soil salinity.  The loss of land as a living space as well as the loss of economic support through agriculture will lead to people forced to migrate out of survival needs.   Both land depletion and increase in soil salinity would have a very detrimental effect upon the agricultural output of the state as a whole.  This would lead to food scarcity when agriculture output drops, and is a possible contributor to conflict.  Furthermore, the forced migration will lead to increased population density and more forced migration as well as the possibility for conflict during the migration.  Eventually, people will be forced to migrate outside of the country in search of new land. The most likely place they will migrate to is India, where they are not very accepting of the mostly Muslim Bangladeshi people.  This will also increase the possibility of conflict, and there are real possibilities of violence if there were to be such migrations.    

3. Duration


4. Location

South Asia Region, Bangladesh and India

5. Actors

Bangladeshi people civilian and military, Indian people both civilian and military.

flag bangladesh II. Environment Aspects

6. Type of Environmental Problem-

Climate Change

Climate change will induce greater instances of extreme weather events in the short-term and sea level rise in the long-term. Climate change will also lead to problems in agriculture, more severe floods as the Himalayan glaciers continue to melt, and increasing intensity in storms.

banglasedh SLR .

Figure 2. Elevation map

This image was made by Robert A. Rohde from the public domain data set SRTM30 PLUS v.2.0

bangladesh sea level rise

Figure 3. Impact of sea level rise

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Video 1. Short video produced by the government of the UK which explains some of the implications of climate change on Bangladesh.

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7. Type of Habitat


Bangladesh is about 80% flatlands, and 20% land of the land is 1 meter or less above sea level. Coastal Bangladesh is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise as 12 out of its 19 districts are directly exposed to the sea. The exposed coast has a population density of 570 persons/ sq. km. while the inland coasts has a density of 1200 persons/ sq. km. It is a critical zone in terms of frequent coastal floods, cyclones and tidal surges IPCC’s fourth assessment report, 2007, depicts that a 1 meter sea level rise will displace around 14,800,000 people by inundating a 29,846 sq. km. area.(Akter 2009)

In terms of climate, Bangladesh is characterized by high temperatures, heavy rainfall, high humidity, and fairly marked seasonal variations. Although over half of Bangladesh is north of the Tropics, the climate is characterized as tropical for most of the year because of the effect of the Himalayan mountain chain, with a warm, almost uniformly humid climate throughout most of the year. There are three main seasons in Bangladesh:
i. A hot summer season, with high temperatures (exceeding 40°C for up to 10 days in the West), a high rate of evaporation, and erratic but heavy rainfall from March to June;
ii. A hot and humid monsoon season, with temperatures ranging between 20°C and 36°C with heavy rainfall from June to October. This amounts to around two thirds of the annual rainfall.
iii. A cooler and drier winter from November to March, with temperatures ranging from 8°C to 15°C, with minimum temperatures of 5°C in the North. (Ayers et Huq 2008)


bangladesh flood prone

Figure 4. The above image is of areas of Bangladesh and their vulnerability to flooding.





flag bangladesh III. Conflict Aspects

9. Type of Conflict

Violent interstate and intrastate conflict involving Banglashis and Indians. There is the possibility of violence over food security, job security, and land disputes. This will take place inside of Bangladesh as rural to urban migration occurs. As well as in the border regions of India.

10. Level of Conflict



11. Fatality Level of Dispute (military and civilian fatalities)

1,000 - 10,000(Future fatality estimate over 100,000 fatalities)


flag bangladesh IV. Environment and Conflict Overlap

bangladesh poverty map

Figure 5. the image above depicts the percentage of the population deemed "extremely poor", within certain areas of the county.


bangladesh pop density

Figure 6. The above image shows the population density in the country of Bangladesh




Extremes and Flooding

Bangladesh is one of the largest deltas in the world, formed by a dense network of the distributaries of the rivers Ganges, Brahmaputra, and the Meghna, and more than 230 major rivers and their tributaries and distributaries.  The total land area is 147, 570 sq km and consists mostly of low, flat land.  Eight percent of the land is floodplain, and only in the extreme northwest do elevations exceed 30 meters above mean sea level, making the majority of Bangladesh (with the exception of the highlands) prone to flooding at least part of the year, with the floodplains of the north western, central, south central and north eastern regions subject to regular flooding.(DOE 2006)  Between 30-70 percent of the country is normally flooded each year.  The extent of flooding is exacerbated by the sediment loads brought by the three major Himalayan rivers, coupled with a negligible flow gradient, which increases congestion.  Precipitation extremes will result in increased rainwater flooding, both because of the increase in monsoon rains, and because of the increased incidences of flash floods associated with increased intensity of precipitation interrupted by sustained dry spells, increasing the surface runoff when the rains do come.

Sea level rise will directly result in increased coastal flooding, which will increase in the event of storm surges.  Sea level rise is also associated with increased riverine flooding, because it causes more backing up of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna rivers along the delta.  This will result in increased drainage congestion due to higher water levels, which will be exacerbated by other factors associated with climate change such as siltation of estuary branches in line with increased surface runoff, and higher riverbed levels.  Higher temperatures will result in increased glacier melt, increasing runoff from the neighboring Himalayas into the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers in the short term, with the possibility of them drying up in the long term .  The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (FAR) states that glaciers in the Himalayas are receding faster than in any other part of the world, and this can be attributed primarily to global warming.

Increased intensity of cyclone winds and precipitation will also result from the warming of the Northern Indian Ocean.  The IPCC conclude that there is evidence of a 5-10 per cent increase in intensity (wind speed) that would contribute to enhanced storm surges and coastal flooding, and also project a 20 percent increase in intensity of associated precipitation that would contribute to flooding.   Cyclone winds are likely to increase in intensity because of the positive correlation with sea surface temperature.  In November 2007, for example, the tropical cyclone Sidr, with a 100 mile long front covering the breadth of the country and with winds up to 240 km per hour, hit Bangladesh.  This was noted to be an unusual occurrence given the intensity and timing of the storm, particularly given that it occurred in the same year as two recurrent floods. The IPCC FAR also note that climate change will be associated with greater precipitation extremes, which includes more intense monsoonal rainfall.
On the other side of the coin, there will be increased moisture stress during dry periods.(Cruz et al 2007)

Climate change will exacerbate drought both in terms of intensity and frequency linked to higher mean temperatures and potentially reduced dry season precipitation.  Monsoon rains produce 80% of Bangladesh’s annual precipitation, and when this is reduced, drought is a significant problem.  The Southwest and Northwest regions are particularly susceptible to drought.  Greater precipitation extremes associated with climate change also mean less rainfall in the dry season, which will increase water stress on those areas that already experience water shortages, particularly in the winter months.  This will be worse for those areas that depend on glacial melt water for their main dry-season water supply, as glaciers recede with rising temperatures.(Govt of Bangladesh 2006)The availability of freshwater will be reduced by increased salinity intrusion into fresh water sources during the low flow conditions.  In the coastal regions, this is brought about by sea level rise resulting in saline water intrusion in the estuaries and into the groundwater.  The effects are exacerbated by greater evaporation and evapotranspiration of freshwater as temperatures increase, coupled with a greater demand for fresh water in times of water stress.

Massive amounts of melted water increases the downward flow of rivers. As the flow speeds up from the Himalayas to Bangladesh through the Ganges-Brahmaputra and into the coast, it is expected that climate change will worsen river bank erosion. Rising intensity of tidal waves will influence severe river bank erosion (Chowdhury et al. 2007). According to the Centre for Environment and Geographic Information Services (CEGIS), a research study found that every year 0.1 million people become homeless because of river bank erosion.

Video 2. The above video animation shows the effect deforestation in Nepal has on the flooding of rivers in Bangladesh.


bangladesh floods 2007

Figure 7. The above image is of the effects of the flood which took place in 2007



12. Environment-Conflict Link and Dynamics:


Food Security and Forced Migration

Agriculture loss and Food Security

In Bangladesh, the overall impact of climate change on agricultural production will be negative. While inundation to a lesser degree has had a positive impact on production, with perennial floods bringing silt and nutrients increasing the fertility of the soils, prolonged floods have had a detrimental impact on crop yields; in two severe floods, 1974 and 1987, the shortfalls in production were about 0.8 and 1.0 Mt respectively. On average during the period 1962-1988, Bangladesh lost about 0.5 million tonnes of rice annually as a result of floods, which accounts for nearly 30% of the country’s average annual food grain imports.

Other impacts of climate change such as temperature extremes, drought, and salinity intrusion, are also causing declining crop yields in Bangladesh.  Several studies have been conducted in Bangladesh to assess the vulnerability of food grain production to various climate scenarios. One such study noted that a 4°C increase in temperature would have a severe impact on food production in Bangladesh, resulting in a 28 per cent reduction for rice and a 68 per cent reduction for wheat. Temperature and rainfall changes have already affected crop production in many parts of Bangladesh, and the area of arable land has already decreased. The shortening of the winter season is resulting in a decline in production of winter crops, particularly potatoes.

Increases in water stress have also affected the production of major crops, again particularly rice, which needs significant amounts of water. The IPCC FAR note that the production of rice and wheat could fall by eight per cent and 32 per cent respectively by 2050. The effect of having negative amounts of agricultural production with an increase in population will cause an increase in the price of food, which may lead to social unrest and possible conflict at the very least. Furthermore, it will lead to more instances of people migrating to find food, or land which can produce sustinance to live off of.

Finally, as I show in the diagram below, there will be an Increase in the price of food in the future as climate change occurs and the population increases. Climate change will lead to shorter growing seasons and less arable land, both of which will deminish the total amount of agriculture and the total food supply. Population increases will also cause a decrease in the total food supply while at the same time increasing the food demand. These factors together will atribute to a rise in the market price of food. Such a rise in the price of food may lead to conflict over food security.


food supply demand

Figure 8. The above diagram displays the likely scenario and effect upon food prices

Forced Migration

As a response to these developments and ongoing political turmoil in Bangladesh, in March 2010 India hopes to have completed a 2,100 mile fence along the Indian-Bangladeshi border, restricting movement between both countries (Hussein 2009). India argues that it barely has enough resources to provide for its own citizens let alone climate displacees and that it shouldn’t have to deal with burdens primarily caused by the developed world.

Historically, migration has been practiced as a way of adapting to various circumstances, which has occasionally included changes in the environment. Today, many individuals and communities practice similar strategies, however it is expected that global warming will significantly increase migration. In the past, migration into India from Bangladesh occurred in short, instantaneous bursts often as a result of a particular event, but environmental change has led to sustained and uninterrupted migration (Alam 2003). Land and water scarcity ‘in the rural areas of Bangladesh, caused by rapid population growth, environmental change and unequal resource distribution and development have caused widespread landlessness, unemployment, declining wages and income’ (Alam 2003). As a result many Bangladeshis continue to relocate either directly to India, or to overcrowded city slums in Dhaka (Islam 2010) and then onto India.

A study undertaken by the Bangladesh Institute for Development Studies found that more than half of poor migrants live in private slums and 44 percent squat on public land.   Research found that migrants residing on government-owned ‘khas lands’ face the greatest level of violence and physical insecurity, as competition between the poorest migrants over this ‘free’ and publically available land is particularly fierce. In one particular district it was noted that migrants were being threatened by local gangs who were restricting access to land and demanding money for rent.  Overcrowding on khas land had resulted in violence between individuals and groups over access to the land.  Research by Rita Asfar of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies shows that attempts by government authorities and vested interests to evict squatters from large settlements in Dhaka have led to heightened levels of violence and clashes between police and migrants, which resulted in men being beaten and many women being raped.(Asfar 2008)

Migrants naturally seek employment in destination areas, but since they increase the supply of labor, their presence also leads to increased competition for jobs, particularly in the informal sector. For example, the number of people looking to find work as a rickshaw driver has multiplied resulting in a saturation of the market. This means that not only is it hard for migrants to find work, but also that there is tension between existing residents and incoming migrants, which can lead to violence. Another negative effect of the influx of migrants is that it is possible for employers to pay less and still find willing employees. These low wages are often insufficient to pay rent and purchase food, leaving migrants in a precarious situation. Furthermore, since resident communities also suffer from the drop in wages, they tend to blame migrants for the situation and this can cause considerable tension. For example, a key informant interviewed in Khulna alleged that violent attacks on migrant communities by local gangs were fuelled by drops in the rate of pay.(Asfar 2008)


bangladesh migration

Figure 9. The above image shows in/out migration between the cities of Bangladesh, one can infer from the fact that 'out' migration is greater that 'in' migration that people are migrating out of the country


Migration to India

border patrol1

Figure 10. The above image shows the BSF Indian Border Security Force on Patrol of the Indio-Bangladesh border fence.



The Indian government has created a Border fence which runs the extent of the majority of the border they share with Bangladesh it is protected by force, 12ft tall, and electrified at points, and the Indian BSF (Border Security Force) patrols it and protects it from illegal migrants. Human Rights Watch published a paper titled "Trigger Happy
Excessive Use of Force by Indian troops
" in December of 2010 that outlines the use of torture and unecessary force in many instances, and claim that over 1,000 people have been killed by the BSF in the past decade at the Bangladesh border. If there were to be a severe climatic event, which set in motion a mass exodus to India, there is the real possibility of Bangladeshi and Indian BSF fighting.

In a structure of haves and have-nots in a society which has been growing seemingly exponentially, it is ripe for conflict in the situation where another force is added to the fray.  One such force could be climate change.  This change may result in agricultural deficiencies, inadequate water, and loss of livelihoods.  In a situation where people are already on the brink of conflict, these may push them over the edge.  Agriculture is a main source of livelihood in the region, water is essential for both agriculture as well as survival.  If there were fresh water deprivations, this would have the effect of simultaneously causing unemployment, starvation because of the effect on the equilibrium cost of food, and causing people to not have available drinking water.  This would cause people either to fight for what is available where they are, or to migrate somewhere that those resources were available.  This migration in of itself would be enough to cause conflict in today’s tumultuous environment in South Asia, add a few hundred million people to the mix, and it will be a ticking time bomb.




Video 3. The above video shows the impact of the border fence between India and Bangladesh


13. Level of Strategic Interest


14. Outcome of Dispute:

In progress


flag bangladesh V. Related Information and Sources

15. Related ICE Cases

78. KASHMIRI Conflict and the Environment in Kashmir, by Jennifer Crook

98. INDOBANG India-Bangladesh Dispute on the Ganges River, by Robie I. Samanta Roy

153. NARMADA The Narmada Dam and Ethnic Conflict in India, by Talib Ellison

161. INDIA-CHINA India and China Border Dispute , by Yuki Kawaguch

208. KASHMIR-GLACIER, Kashmir, Glaciers and Warming, by Samantha Hulkowe

221. RAJASTAN, The Pattern of Migration in India Due to Climate Change, by Lauren Carrol

233. PAKISTAN-FLOOD, Pakistan Floods, Climate Change, Separatism, and Terrorism, by Carmen Radu


16. Relevant Websites and Literature

Afsar, Rita , 2008, “Population movement in the fluid, fragile and contentious borderland between Bangladesh and India” Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies

Akter, Tahera, 2009, "Climate Change and Flow of Environmental Displacement in Bangladesh", Unnayan Onneshan-The Innovators

.Alam, S, 2003. "Environmentally induced migration from Bangladesh to India", Strategic Analysis Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, 3, pp. 422-438.

Ayers, Jessica and Huq, Saleemul, 2008, "Climate Change Impacts and Response in Bangladesh", International Institute for Environment and Development

Awal,M. et Khan, Halim , 2009, “Global Warming and Sea Level Rising: Impact
on Bangladesh Agriculture and Food Security
”, Department of Crop Botany Bangladesh Agricultural University

Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies, 2009, “Climate Change and Security The Security Dimensions of Climate Change” Issue Brief 7, April 2009

Bhadwal, S and Kelkar, U. , 2007,. "South Asian Regional Study on Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation: Implications for Human Development", in Human Development Report 2007/2008, U.U.N.D. Program

Chowdhury, N. A. 2007. "Men, women and the environment gender issues in climate change", Unnayan Onneshan, Dhaka.

Chowdhury, Karim et Shamsuddoha Rezaul, 2007, “Climate Change Impact and Disaster Vulnerabilities in the Coastal Areas of, Equity and Justice Working Group (EJWG)

Cline, W.R., 2007, "Global Warming and Agriculture. Impact Estimates by Country", Washington DC: Centre for Global Development and the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

Cruz, R.V., et al., Asia, in "Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability", Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, M.L. Parry, et al., Editors. 2007, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge. p. 469-506.

Dalrymple, Sarah and Hiscock, Duncan , 2009, “Climate change and security in Bangladesh” Bangladesh Institute of Strategic studies and Saferworld

DOE (Department of Environment, M.o.E.a.F., Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh), 2006," Addressing Climate Change in Bangladesh: National Efforts”. , Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.

Government of Bangladesh: 2006 "Dhaka Climate Change Cell, Who is doing What in Bangladesh? Report on the First Meeting." , Comprehensive Disaster Management Program

Human Rights Watch, "Trigger happy: Excessive use of force by Indian Troops at the Bangladesh border",

Hussain, Mahbub 2008, "Sea level rise, Natural Disasters and threats to Human Security in Bangladesh", paper presented in a conference on South Asia: Environment and Human Securities Conference, 2-3 October 2008, held in National Museum of Australia, Canberra

Rahman,A B M Ziaur, 2009, “Climate change, migration and conflict in Bangladesh: A view from the ground” IOP Conf. Ser.: Earth Environ. Sci. 6 562003

Rafael Reuveny, 2007, “Climate change-induced migration and violent conflict” School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University

Van Bommel, Maxine, 2010, “Good fences don’t make good neighbors: Outlining the complexities of protecting climate displacees, with special reference to India and Bangladesh”  Utrecht University

Van Der Hoorn, Matthijs, 2010, “Climate Change and Conflict in Bangladesh”, Radboud University Nijmegen

UN World food Program,


[William Litchfield, Fall 2010]