Every year, more and more people start to feel the horrible effects of climate change. Extreme weather, rising sea levels, increased frequency of wildfires happening and loss of biodiversity are just a few examples of the harm that a changing climate does. It is no surprise that the safety of the world’s citizens is decreased along with these impacts. Some more affected people reach a difficult decision – they decide to find a safer place to live. According to the World Migration Report 2020, “many more people are newly displaced by disasters in any given year, compared with those newly displaced by conflict and violence, and more countries are affected by disaster displacement”. Nowadays, we observe an increasing number of so-called “climate migrants”. Soon, climate change is likely to become the main cause of people’s displacement on a global scale. Or perhaps it already is.
Satabhaya, located in the Kendrapara district of Odisha, used to be a cluster of seven villages on the eastern coastline of India. The villages spread across 875 acres of land, but all ceased to exist in 1960 due to sea erosion, forcing the inhabitants to move inland. They formed five new villages – Kanhupur, Satabhaya, Barahipur, Rabindrapalli and Magarakanda. All of them except for Satabhaya have been devoured by the Bay of Bengal, with Kanhupur being completely swallowed by the sea in 2011.
Today, the village of Satabhaya is facing the same threat. Satabhaya’s 12 km-long beach is the fastest eroding in Odisha. The Kendrapara district, being one of the worst cyclone-affected districts in the state, is characterized by a fragile environment. It is regularly affected by cyclones, sea erosion, saltwater intrusion, rising sea level, and flooding. 10% of Odisha’s coastline is highly vulnerable to erosion. The state lost 28% of its 485 kilometer coastline between 1999 and 2016, while the village area alone was reduced from 350 square kilometers in 1930 to 140 square kilometers in 2015.
A rehabilitation programme for people displaced due to the sea-level rise in Satabhaya was initiated in 2015. So far, 577 of the 771 families had been shifted to the rehabilitation colony in Bagapatia, a village inside the Bhitarakanika wildlife sanctuary located twelve kilometers from Satabhaya. However, the process is still not over – 200 families are still waiting to be relocated to safer areas. Some parents have even sent their children to live with friends and relatives in the resettlement colony so that they can attend school.
Along with the construction of the colony, the government invested money in the improvement of the conditions in Bagapatia, so the new place can satisfy the relocated people’s needs. Some changes include improved quality of school facilities, enhanced sanitation, better infrastructure, access to healthcare and electricity. The district administration has built 19 roads, a school, a multipurpose cyclone center, 4 rural child care centers, and a market complex with 14 shops. These investments surely sound great, but what does the reality look like?
Life in Bagapatia is a struggle in the absence of regular income for the people of Satabhaya. Their main sources of livelihood were farming and fishing, however agriculture and rearing livestock are not possible without farming land at their disposal. Lack of job opportunities in the agriculture and farming sector has resulted in shrinking income sources. Some people choose to leave the colony and find a job in different places, even in different states. Even though there is a school in the colony, in the absence of family income, some children migrate with their families. At least 400 men and teenagers from the village are now working in Kerala, with children being often employed in textile mills. Women, the elderly, and some children below the age of 14 who stay back are dependent on the remittances sent to them periodically.
In the colony, people suffer from the lack of land and trees. Back in Satabhaya, people owned 1000 square meters of land. When they were located, the government offered them only 405 square meters, which often turns out to be sufficient for building only one little house. Last, but not least, there has been a drastic reduction in food security as people have moved away from their traditional natural resources. Their livelihood opportunities have drastically decreased, as, for instance, some have been forced to abandon their livestock. Lack of livelihood options is also forcing people to travel to their old village which at least provides them with fishing as a means to sustain themselves.
Prabhabati Behera is 55 years old and still lives in Satabhaya with her teenage children, as they have not yet been relocated. In an interview conducted by Pragati Prava, “a climate and human interest storyteller,” she mentioned: “Our home is just 100 meters from the sea and water often reaches our door steps. Every day, we go to bed praying to survive the night from the clutches of the sea and thank god after getting up in the morning for being alive”. It is unknown how much longer the people of Satabhaya can last in these life-threatening conditions. The crisis has not yet been averted, and people are suffering. How long can they keep on waiting? And if they are relocated, will they be able to lead fulfilling lives?
The displaced people of Satabhaya are probably India's first climate refugees, but surely not last, considering how little climate action is taken by world leaders. In 2021, there were 23.7 million Internally Displaced People globally. The Institute for Economics & Peace predicts the number of people displaced to rise to 1.2 billion by 2050. Is the world ready for this? I leave this question for you to answer.
“Raw deal to climate refugees”. (2018). KalingaTV Bureau. Retrieved 2022, November 1, from https://kalingatv.com/features/raw-deal-to-climate-refugees/
“Satabhaya; swallowed by the sea”. (2019). Down To Earth. Retrieved 2022, November 1, from https://youtu.be/KLHhpxpoT8o
“There could be 1.2 billion climate refugees by 2050. Here’s what you need to know”. (2022). Zurich. Retrieved 2022, November 1, from https://www.zurich.com/en/media/magazine/2022/there-could-be-1-2-billion-climate-refugees-by-2050-here-s-what-you-need-to-know
“Unpacking Resettlement – A journey from Satavaya to Bagapatia”. (2018). Deccma India. Retrieved 2022, November 1, from https://youtu.be/2ueRa1jVs-w
“World Migration Report 2020”. (2019). International Organization for Migration. Retrieved 2022, November 1, from https://publications.iom.int/system/files/pdf/wmr_2020.pdf
Patsani, M. (2019). “Climate Change: Ghost Villages Of Odisha Left To Fend For Themselves”, My City Links. Retrieved 2022, November 1, from https://mycitylinks.in/climate-change-ghost-villages-of-odisha-left-to-fend-for-themselves/
Paul, M. (2022). “23,700,000: That's how many people climate change forced out of their homes in 2021”, Down to Earth. Retrieved 2022, November 1, from https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/climate-change/23-700-000-that-s-how-many-people-climate-change-forced-out-of-their-homes-in-2021-83356
Prava, P. (2019). “Odisha’s climate refugees: Satabhaya’s cattle farmers suffer in new homes”, Down To Earth. Retrieved 2022, November 1, from https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/economy/odisha-s-climate-refugees-satabhaya-s-cattle-farmers-suffer-in-new-homes-65578
Sahu, P.R. (2019). “Sea erosion affecting lives and livelihoods in Odisha”, Earth Journalism. Retrieved 2022, November 1, from https://earthjournalism.net/stories/sea-erosion-affecting-lives-and-livelihoods-in-odisha
Sahu, P.R. (2018). “Satabhaya in 2018”, Earth Journalism. Retrieved 2022, November 1, from https://earthjournalism.net/program-updates/odisha-governments-resettlement-efforts-accelerated-by-ejn-grantees-report-on-0
Sahu, P.R. (2018). “The rehabilitation colony at Bagapatia in 2018”, Earth Journalism. Retrieved 2022, November 1, from https://earthjournalism.net/program-updates/odisha-governments-resettlement-efforts-accelerated-by-ejn-grantees-report-on-0