Unpacking Drivers of Vulnerability on Internal Migration in Areas Prone to Drought and Riverine Erosion in North-West Bangladesh

No Thumbnail Available
File version
Primary Supervisor

Davey, Peter

Other Supervisors

Hossain, Moazzem

Serrao-Neumann, Silvia

File type(s)

This dissertation examines the vulnerability of internal migrants from north-west rural Bangladesh who have had substantial experience with slow-onset forms of natural hazard. To date, the majority of the research on the vulnerability of human systems has tended to focus on the bio-physical impacts of hazards. Although the scholarly works have also contributed to the assessment of the impacts of climate change on human migration, they have provided only a limited understanding of how such groups are affected by various aspects of vulnerability. In the climate-migration research nexus, more recent studies have recognized the need to investigate how climate and environmental vulnerability could result in incremental or non-linear migration outcomes, depending on various contexts of natural hazards. In order to examine such complexities, the concept of drivers of vulnerability offers a valuable analytical alternative to indicator based methods. This approach can explain how multiple drivers can influence the livelihoods of numerous populations which are likely to vary across the contexts of natural hazards, time, and space, and between and within social groups. Little research exists to give a comprehensive understanding of the underlying drivers of vulnerability and how and why they change across the contexts of natural hazards. This study addresses this apparent gap by generating empirical knowledge on how the drivers of vulnerability influence an individual’s decision to migrate internally away from the drought prone and riverine areas of Bangladesh. This study is based on two case studies in the north-west of Bangladesh. Each case study represents one type of slow-onset natural hazard, namely drought and slow-onset riverbank erosion. While shedding light on present climate vulnerability and its significance for human mobility, this thesis breaks unexplored ground by answering research questions that involve three interconnected issues - the underlying drivers of vulnerability experienced by the socio-economically disadvantaged internal migrants and their family members, the tipping points of their migration, and the intervening social factors that potentially influence the migration decision. This study adopts a multi-method approach and answers its research questions by means of structured interviews, focus group discussions, and key informant interviews. The results illustrate in rich details the underlying drivers of vulnerability which potentially influence involuntary internal migration from the study areas. A range of drivers of vulnerability are identified and classified into five broad thematic areas including economic, institutional, infrastructural, environmental and health-and-wellbeing. Moreover, this study provides analytical details on how individuals perceive their own tipping points, after which a decision to migrate can appear unavoidable. The study demonstrates that individuals in both hazard contexts perceive their tipping points mostly in terms of unmanageable economic pressure at the household level. Additionally, the results also confirm that the presence of social networks, which mainly involve relatives, friends, and some potential employers, are helpful at bridging the gaps between geographically dispersed places and at mobilizing social capital to ease the challenges during and after migration. This thesis contributes to theory and policy by shedding light on the recurrent vulnerability issues of internal migrants in Bangladesh. First, it suggests that the vulnerability of internal migrants living in the areas studied is shaped by various drivers, as previously stated. However, the degree of influence of such drivers is disproportionately distributed between and within the two studied contexts. Second, along with internal tipping points such as household financial stress, external elements beyond household control, such as the worrying pressure of institutional microcredit default, can potentially accelerate the decision to migrate. Third, there exists a growing recognition of the limitations of the universal indicators and indices used to understand human vulnerability at the local level. This study further compared four sub-districts within the two contexts and tested whether these would show similar sets of drivers of vulnerability. This analysis concurs with some other studies that relying on a blanket approach to vulnerability measurement would mislead future researchers and have harmful policy implications. This study reveals that careful investigation of the nuances of vulnerability at the local scales can have important policy implications. It also reveals that disadvantaged groups tend to extend their coping mechanisms when the degree of vulnerability increases. Such coping mechanisms are largely associated with governmental and non-governmental development interventions at the local level. The current research cautions that, in order to avoid future challenges, there is an urgent need to develop context specific guidelines for climate adaptation. While taking climate adaptation into account, the study questions the effectiveness of some ongoing interventions at the local level, which, include groundwater based irrigation for agriculture, rural microcredit schemes, and notes the striking absence of government welfare intervention in some of the areas studied. The main implication of the research findings for policy highlights the importance of understanding the local contexts when designing and implementing interventions, rather than adopting a general approach across all contexts. Moreover, the timely and detailed information on a range of drivers of vulnerability demonstrated in this thesis should help to analyse and evaluate the various effects of existing interventions by government and non-government organizations, as previously discussed and better manage internal migration in Bangladesh, and arguably in other similar settings.

Journal Title
Conference Title
Book Title
Thesis Type

Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

Degree Program

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Environment and Science

Publisher link
Patent number
Grant identifier(s)
Rights Statement
Rights Statement

The author owns the copyright in this thesis, unless stated otherwise.

Item Access Status
Access the data
Related item(s)

North-West Bangladesh


Riverine erosion

Internal migrants

Climate change

Persistent link to this record