In 2017, the majority of new displacements occurred due to sudden-onset disasters including Tropical Cylone Mora in May and Monsoon flooding between June and August. A total of 946,000 new displacements due to disasters occurred. Conflict was a comparatively smaller driver of new displacement, with a total of 6,000 new displacements occurring due to clashes in the contested Chittagong Hill Tracts area. The majority of IDPs already living in Bangladesh have been displaced for historical reasons, linked to territorial disputes that date since the 1970s. There were 432,000 IDPs living in displacement due to conflict at the end of 2017.
What causes displacement?
Displacement in Bangladesh is linked largely to sudden-onset hydro-meteorological disasters, such as floods, tropical storms and mudslides, and to a smaller extent to conflict and violence, with certain groups of people who have been living in displacement for decades since the formation of modern-day Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. Part of this is due to geography: much of the country is located on the low-lying Ganges-Brahamputra river delta, exposed to flooding, and is in proximity to the Bay of Bengal, where tropical storms and cyclones regularly occur. Much of the country is also highly affected by the summer monsoon, which occurs roughly between the May and September every year. These hazards sometimes coincide with each other. But a major contributor to disaster risk is also low socio-economic development, rapid urbanization, and population density: at an average of 1,252 people per square kilometre in 2016, Bangladesh is one of the world’s most densely populated countries. The southern coast in particular is home to over 35 million people, many living in poor quality housing, and this number is expected to increase to at least 45 million by 2050. These factors combine to place Bangladesh as the country with the second highest displacement risk in South Asia, after India. These risks are compounded by climate change, as sea levels rise, rainfall increases and the usual patterns of tropical storms and cyclones change, occurring at the same time as the gradual sinking of the Ganges-Brahamputra delta, increasing the risk of submergence by sea level rise and tropical storms and cyclones.
On displacement related to conflict, the majority of IDPs have been displaced since the 1970s, due to territorial issues that date back to the period following Bangladesh’s independence. In the Chittagong Hill Tracts in south east Bangladesh, the indigenous Jumma community, comprised of 11 indigenous groups, became displaced due to land conflicts that arose in the 1970s and 1980s after landless Bengali people moved into the area, as part of a wider move by the government to change the demographics of the region. While the conflict was officially resolved with the promulgation of a peace accord in 1997, intercommunal violence has continued, leading to regular new displacements. In 2001, the government passed the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act, which was then amended in 2016, to resolve these ongoing conflicts, although reports have suggested that tensions of over land have continued.
Another long-standing displacement case is that of the Biharis, also known as the “Stranded Pakistanis”, an Urdu-speaking minority who moved to present-day Bangladesh after intercommunal violence erupted in Bihar (now a state in India) during the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. Once in Bangladesh, tensions arose with the majority-Bengali population during Bangladesh’s Liberation War of 1971, and this group became displaced again, this time internally, moving to what were intended to be temporary IDP camps. However, many people from this original group, and their descendants, have since remained in these camps. Although Biharis are entitled to Bangladeshi citizenship, alleged discrimination and bureaucratic obstacles have made acquiring this difficult in practice, and thus full integration into Bangladeshi society extremely difficult. In this sense, the case of the Biharis represents an unusual case of protracted displacement. Continued presence of many people in these original camps, without adequate opportunities to leave, points to a continued situation of internal displacement, and cannot be described as having reached a durable solution.
Where and how do people move?
Some of the highest risk places for disaster-induced displacement include the 19 coastal districts, which are vulnerable to tropical storms and cyclones, as well as districts along major river banks, for example in Rajshari political division. Families living from agriculture or aquaculture are particularly exposed as they live near the coast or rivers, and can be displaced multiple times a year.
In 2017, the majority of new displacements occurred due to two events: Tropical Cyclone Mora in May, which stuck the south east causing a total of 478,000 evacuations, and monsoon flooding between July and August, which caused a total of 436,000 new displacements across 7 political divisions including Rangpur, Rajshahi, Mymensingh, Sylhet, Chittagong, Dhaka and Khulna. Other noteworthy disasters in recent years include tropical storm Roanu in 2016, which led to 496,000 new displacements.
In the Chittagong Hill Tracts, about 275,000 people are estimated to be displaced in 3 districts: Khagrachari, Rangamati and Bandarban. This includes both indigenous and Bengali households who are living in temporary housing after being forced to leave their homes at least once since 1977, the start of the conflict, and 2007, the last time an in-depth study was conducted, representing a case of extremely protracted displacement. Although new data is difficult to obtain, continued insecurity continues to displace people. In 2017 alone, about 6,000 people were reported as newly displaced in 2017 due to a land dispute which sparked intercommunal violence in mid-June.
There were an estimated 151,000 Biharis displaced at the end of 2017, living in 116 camps spread around the country in different urban areas. The largest one is Geneva Camp in Dhaka, where about 30,000 people live in cramped conditions. Very little information is available about the exact population size in each of these camps.
What is life like for IDPs and communities hosting them?
Repeated displacement due to regularly occurring disasters brings a range of negative health, economic and social outcomes, including livelihood loss, a lack of educational opportunities and an increased risk of health problems such as water-borne and infectious diseases. Women who are displaced also find themselves at a higher risk of sexual and gender-based violence.
In the long term, people in households whose primary income is from agricultural activities, and that can no longer absorb repeated economic losses due to a succession of sudden-onset disasters, in combination with the impact of slow-onset disasters such as increased salinization of soils, may move to cities to find work, often moving to slum areas which carry disaster risks of their own, in addition to other challenges such as a lack of basic service provision.
Living conditions are notoriously poor in Bihari settlements, with inhabitants facing issues such as overcrowded conditions, lack of sanitation facilities, and a lack of access to education for children. The same is true for the Jumma population in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, who are disadvantaged in a range of areas including access to land, adequate housing, health and education.
Where does the data on displacement come from and what are the main challenges?
Publishing comprehensive data on disaster-related internal displacement can be difficult, due to the lack of access to affected areas during the monsoon season and the widespread nature of floods. However, the Ministry of Disaster and Relief releases detailed information on the impacts of disasters, including information on loss and damage, and arrivals in shelters, although it is often not possible to obtain data on individual events. The language barrier makes the full use of this data challenging for foreign researchers. Other estimates come from local and international media reports, disaster assessments conducted by the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, or reports from the Bangladesh Shelter Cluster.
It is also challenging to collect data on the protracted cases of conflict-induced displacement in Bangladesh. These cases are politically sensitive and the areas where people are living difficult to access. IDMC relies on reports from specialised NGOs working to serve these groups, such as the Human Development Research Centre for the Chittagong Hill Tracts, and the Al-Falah Foundation for people living in Bihari camps.
|Displacement type||Returnees (Stock)||New Displacement (Flow)||IDPs (Stock)|
|Geographical coverage||Partial coverage||Partial coverage||Partial coverage|
|Frequency of reporting||No update||Other||Other|
|Disaggregation on sex||No||No||No|
|Disaggregation on age||No||No||No|
|Data triangulation||No Triangulation||No Triangulation||Contradictory data|
|Data on settlement elsewhere||No||No||No|
|Data on returns||No||No||No|
|Data on local integration||No||No||No|
|Data on deaths||No||No||No|
|Data on births||No||No||No|
This figure is based on decaying data related to two caseloads: displacement in Chittagong Hills Tracts and displaced members of the Bihari community. IDMC's research does not support removing these caseloads from the stock as no evidence suggests these IDPs have returned to their place of origin or achieved durable solutions. The estimate for new displacement refers to inter-communal clashes in Chittagong Hills Tracts in June 2017.
What are governments currently doing to prevent and respond to displacement?
Relevant policies on internal displacement in Bangladesh fall largely in the area of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation, due to the significant risks that Bangladesh faces from the impacts of climate change, and in conjunction with requirements set out in international instruments such as the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. One such policy is the National Plan for Disaster Management, published for the period 2010-2015. The 2016-2020 plan is still in draft stage. Another policy is the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100, a plan formulated primarily with the Government of the Netherlands, which seeks to map out changes in land use planning and disaster management measures that will be needed to meet the growing pressures on the delta. Bangladesh has also produced a National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA), which was released in 2005.
Overall, Bangladesh has played a leadership role in national and community-based disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation efforts. In the case of cyclones, the implementation of programmes like early warning systems and storm shelters has significantly reduced the number of yearly deaths due to disasters. Although these systems are vital to save lives, they do increase internal displacement, as evacuations become more and more widely used as a response to disasters.
To better manage this process, in 2015, the Government of Bangladesh published a policy specifically on IDPs, entitled the National strategy on the management of disaster and climate-induced internal displacement (NSMDCIID). In recognition of the increased risk of internal displacement over time in Bangladesh, and the fact that being internally displaced can infringe on many areas of human rights, it seeks to implement a rights-based approach to address disaster and climate-induced internal displacement. The strategy makes a series of suggestions to protect IDP rights throughout different phases of displacement, addressing prevention efforts of internal displacement in a “pre-displacement” phase; managing displacement and responding to humanitarian needs in the “displacement” phase; and addressing displacement through durable solutions- return, local integration and resettlement- in a “post displacement” phase.