Population Displacement in India Due to Climate Change: Why 3 Feet Equals 125 Million People

Climate change activists in northern India

Climate change activists in northern India

Climate change is increasingly understood to be a human induced phenomenon, greatly accelerating natural cycles. By now we have heard over and over again, that in it’s latest research the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has confirmed that accelerated climate change – global warming – is taking place. No surprise there. But, what may be a lesser known fact is the impact climate change is having on sea-levels.

A 3-feet rise in sea-level will inundate 3,700 square miles in India, of which Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai will be the major cities being affected. This would mean losses of billions of dollars in infrastructural, social, physical assets and capital.

According to Indian climate scientists, 125 million people are likely to migrate in the coming century of which 75 million will be from Bangladesh. The people from Bangladesh will most likely migrate to India in addition to their own 50 to 60 million people who will be displaced due to sea-level rise and resulting water source scarcities.

Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai are the largest cities on the coast of India, on an average elevation of 5-30 feet, which is in the Low Elevation Coastal Zone, an area that falls under 30 feet of coastal elevation. Approximately 50,000 square miles of land fall under this zone in India – this includes a population of over 60 million. Fifty percent of this population are in urban regions comprising approximately 31 million people.

These are sobering numbers that leave these predictions in the hands of local institutions. The question is whether these institutions are capable of managing or containing these problems.

One industry that will be hurt the most are the fishing communities, which live on the coast and are the least resilient to climate change. Livelihoods will be lost and  forced to move inland in search of alternative work.

Erratic rainfall, climate changes, water shortages and food scarcity will push the vulnerable communities of landless laborers, small farmers, into worse conditions forcing them to migrate to the cities in search of new livelihoods. Economists believe that the adaptive capacities of these communities are extremely low considering that they are already affected by negative trends of globalization.

If these trends continue and no major policy changes are made then the displacement will be around 50-60 million. Too high a number for the Indian government to not take action.

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About sachinshah

Sachin Shah completed his undergraduate at the University of Texas at Austin Jackson School of Geosciences with a degree in Hydrogeology in 1999. Sachin spent nine years at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in Atlanta, Georgia and Austin, Texas. He worked primarily on water resources issues including international transboundary water concerns, drought mitigation, and using new technologies to understanding groundwater resource availability and quality. Sachin has travelled to various parts of the U.S. and the world conducting hydrologic research in such places as Honduras after tropical storm Mitch and the United Arab Emirates. In 2009, Sachin made the decision to resign from his post at USGS to refocus his energy towards non-profit management, and environmental and climate change policy. Sachin is a first year Masters Global Policy Studies graduate student at the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs and hopes to have a nonprofit focusing on equitable allocation of water resources in rural areas.

One thought on “Population Displacement in India Due to Climate Change: Why 3 Feet Equals 125 Million People

  1. population of india

    Climate change will affect human health in many ways—mostly adversely. Here, we summarise the epidemiological evidence of how climate variations and trends affect various health outcomes.


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