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Gender, disasters and climate: Case of internal displacement in Assam, India

Abstract

Social vulnerabilities are exacerbated as a result of human mobilities in the face of climate-related disasters. Framing these mobilities as a response to disasters masks the underlying systemic issues but helps to explore and understand the connections between climate change, disasters, and displacement, and particularly helps to identify which internal displacement patterns emerge as either adaptive or maladaptive strategies.

Using a case study approach, this article juxtaposes Assam’s history with floods, erosion, and extreme rainfall since 2012–2013 with people’s mobility as an emerging form of adaptive capacity. It contextualises key concepts of gender justice, using them to understand gendered recovery processes following disasters. This article advances the concepts of justice and migration by looking at the role and impact various patterns of mobilities have on vulnerable groups, particularly women.

While there is an increasing body of research examining the climate change–migration nexus, what is needed is a focus on understanding internal displacement using an environmental and gender justice lens. This approach must include debate and further research on internal displacement, and strengthening policy approaches to make them both climate resilient and migrant inclusive.

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Notes

  1. Kanta Kumari Rigaud et al., Groundswell: Preparing for Internal Climate Migration (World Bank 2018). https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/29461. Accessed 21 March 2022.

  2. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Global Trends in Forced Displacement in 2020 (UNHCR 2021) 2.

  3. UNHCR, Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (1998) E/CN.4/1998/53/Add.2, Annex, Introduction, para 3.

  4. Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (adopted 28 July 1951, entered into force 22 April 1954) 189 UNTS 150 art 1(A)(2).

  5. UNHCR India, ‘“Refugees” and “Migrants”—Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)’ (16 March 2016).

    https://www.unhcr.org/news/latest/2016/3/56e95c676/refugees-migrants-frequently-asked-questions-faqs.html. Accessed 01 February 2022.

  6. Emily Wilkinson et al., ‘Climate-Induced Migration and Displacement: Closing the Policy Gap’ (ODI Briefing Paper 2016). http://cdn-odi-production.s3.amazonaws.com/media/documents/10996.pdf. Accessed 30 January 2022.

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  8. Ibid.

  9. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation, IPCC Special Report 31 (IPCC 2012).

  10. Koko Warner, ‘Global Environmental Change and Migration: Governance Challenges’ (2010) 20(3) Global Environmental Change 402.

  11. Wilkinson et al., ‘Climate-Induced Migration and Displacement’ (n 6).

  12. United Nations (UN), ‘Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ (2015). https://sdgs.un.org/2030agenda. Accessed 21 March 2022; UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030 (2015). https://www.preventionweb.net/files/43291_sendaiframeworkfordrren.pdf. Accessed 21 March 2022.

  13. Wilkinson et al., ‘Climate-Induced Migration and Displacement’ (n 6).

  14. Natalie Suckall, Evan Fraser, and Piers Forster, ‘Reduced Migration under Climate Change: Evidence from Malawi Using an Aspirations and Capabilities Framework’ (2017) 9(4) Climate and Development 298.

  15. Valerie Nelson, Gender, Generations, Social Protection and Climate Change: A Thematic Review (Overseas Development Institute 2011).

  16. Wilkinson et al., ‘Climate-Induced Migration and Displacement’ (n 6).

  17. Emmeline Skinner, Gender and Climate Change: Overview Report, BRIDGE Cutting Edge Pack on Gender and Climate Change (Institute of Development Studies 2011).

  18. Mark Pelling, Adaptation to Climate Change: From Resilience to Transformation (Routledge 2011).

  19. Stephanie Leder, Linking Women’s Empowerment and Their Resilience (Kathmandu 2016).

  20. Ashleigh Rushton et al., ‘The Gendered Body Politic in Disaster Policy and Practice’ (2020) 47 International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction 1.

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  22. Julie-Anne Richards and Simon Bradshaw, ‘Uprooted by Climate Change: Responding to the Growing Risk of Displacement’ (Oxfam Briefing Paper 2017).

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  24. Basundhara Bhattarai, Ruth Beilin, and Rebecca Ford, ‘Gender, Agrobiodiversity, and Climate Change: A Study of Adaptation Practices in the Nepal Himalayas’ (2015) 70 World Development 122.

  25. Eric Neumar and Thomas Plumper, ‘The Gendered Nature of Natural Disasters: The Impact of Catastrophic Events on the Gender Gap in Life Expectancy, 1981–2002’ (2007) 97(3) Annals of the Association of American Geographers 551.

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  27. David King et al., ‘Voluntary Relocation as an Adaptation Strategy to Extreme Weather Events’ (2014) 8 International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction 83.

  28. Naila Kabeer, ‘Resources, Agency, Achievements: Reflections on the Measurement of Women’s Empowerment’ (1999) 30(3) Development and Change 409.

  29. Ibid. 440.

  30. Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva, Ecofeminism (Zed Books 1993).

  31. Francis Kingdon-Ward, ‘The Assam Earthquake of 1950’ (1953) 119(2) Geographical Journal 169.

  32. Debasree Purkayastha, ‘Understanding the Brahmaputra and the Annual Flooding in Assam’ (Hindu, 15 July 2019). https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/in-the-hands-of-the-brahmaputra-understanding-the-annual-flooding-in-assam/article20948196.ece. Accessed 07 December 2021.

  33. Hemanta Kumar Nath, ‘Flood Situation in Assam Grim, over 2.25 Lakh People of 15 Districts Affected’ (India Today, 28 August 2021). https://www.indiatoday.in/india/assam/story/flood-situation-assam-15-districts-affected-1846555-2021-08-28. Accessed 24 March 2022.

  34. Hemanta Kumar Nath, ‘Assam Floods: Three Dead, Nearly 5.74 Lakh People in 22 Districts Affected’ (Times of India, 21 September 2021). https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/assam-floods-22-districts-over-5-7-lakh-people-affected-death-toll-1847759-2021-09-01. Accessed 07 December 2021.

  35. Utpal Parashar, ‘Flood Condition Deteriorates in Assam; Over Half a Million People Affected in 22 Districts’ (Hindustan Times, 31 August 2021). https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/others/flood-condition-deteriorates-in-assam-over-half-a-million-people-affected-in-22-districts-101630431954465.html. Accessed 28 March 2022.

  36. IDMC, Global Report on Internal Displacement 2021, Part 2 (n 7).

  37. Sneha Krishnan, ‘Spotlight on Displacement for Effective Climate Action’ (Statesman, 08 November 2021). https://www.thestatesman.com/opinion/spotlight-displacement-effective-climate-action-1503023276.html. Accessed 28 March 2022.

  38. IDMC, Global Report on Internal Displacement 2021, Part 2 (n 7).

  39. Jules Montague, ‘The “River People” under Threat’ (BBC Future, 18 May 2018). https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20180516-the-sapori-people-living-on-indias-brahmaputra-islands. Accessed 07 December 2021.

  40. Wasbir Hussain, ‘Ethno-nationalism and the Politics of Terror in India’s Northeast’ (2007) 30(1) South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 93. See also Montague, ‘The “River People” under Threat’ (n 39).

  41. Ashima Sharma, ‘The Mishing and the Miyah Have Learnt to Live with the Brahmaputra. Can Assam?’ (Wire Science, 13 September 2021). https://science.thewire.in/politics/rights/mishing-miyah-adapt-brahmaputra-floods-assam-resilient-communities/. Accessed 25 March 2022

  42. Ibid.

  43. Arupjyoti Saikia, The Unquiet River: A Biography of the Brahmaputra (Oxford University Press 2020).

  44. Ibid.

  45. Montague, ‘The “River People” under Threat’ (n 39).

  46. Ibid.

  47. Walter Fernandes and Gita Bharali, Uprooted for Whose Benefit? Development-Induced Displacement in Assam 1947–2000 (North Eastern Social Research Centre, Guwahati 2011).

  48. Britha Mikkelsen, Methods for Development Work and Research: A New Guide for Practitioners (2nd edn, Sage Publications 2015).

  49. Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA), Towards a Disaster Resilient Assam: Floods in Assam 2012 (2012). http://sdmassam.nic.in/pdf/publication/Documentation%20of%20Flood%202012.pdf. Accessed 28 March 2022.

  50. Sneha Krishnan, ‘Adaptive Capacities for Women’s Mobility during Displacement after Floods and Riverbank Erosion in Assam, India’, Climate and Development Journal (forthcoming).

  51. DC Goswami, Flood Forecasting in the Brahmaputra River, India: A Case Study (Guwahati University 2000).

  52. Oxfam India, ‘Oxfam India’s Response to Assam Floods’ (2013). https://www.slideshare.net/OxfamIndia/oxfam-indias-response-to-assam-floods. Accessed 25 March 2022.

  53. Sneha Krishnan, ‘Building Community Resilience to Seasonal Flooding: Field Experience from Assam Floods 2012, India’ in Adriana Allen, Liza Griffin and Cassidy John (ed), Environmental Justice and Resilience in the Urban Global South: An Emerging Agenda (Palgrave Macmillan 2017).

  54. Sneha Krishnan and John Twigg, ‘Menstrual Hygiene: A “Silent” Need during Disaster Recovery’ (2016) 35(3) Waterlines 265.

  55. The historical and present-day nuances of land politics for immigrants and tribals in the Assam floodplains have been extensively researched. See Chandan Kumar Sharma, ‘The immigration issue in Assam and conflicts around it’ (2012) 13(3) Asian Ethnicity 287.

  56. King et al., ‘Voluntary Relocation as an Adaptation Strategy to Extreme Weather Events’ (n 27).

  57. CARE, Evicted by Climate Change: Confronting the Gendered Impacts of Climate-Induced Displacement (Climate Change and Resilience Platform 2020).

  58. Sarah Bradshaw, ‘Engendering Development and Disasters’ (2015) 39(1) Disasters 54.

  59. Sylvia Walby, ‘Gender Mainstreaming: Productive Tensions in Theory and Practice’ (2005) 12(3) Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State and Society 321.

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Krishnan, S. Gender, disasters and climate: Case of internal displacement in Assam, India. Jindal Global Law Review 13, 87–101 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41020-022-00163-y

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Keywords

  • Gender justice
  • Environmental justice
  • Internal displacement
  • Assam
  • Climate change