Climate Change and Internal Displacement in Nepal

Author: Kalpana Magar

A varied assortment of anecdotal evidence suggest that Nepal is one of the key disaster-prone countries in the world, and its population stands at high risk of natural hazards connected to climate change. According to the Global Risk Index 2021, Nepal ranks in the 10th position in terms of climate induced fatalities. Every year, climate change has triggered internal displacement or forced mass migration in Nepal. The Displacement Tracking Matrix reported that, due to extreme weather events, an estimated 13,352 displaced population were recorded in Nepal by the end of July 2020. This figure is likely to increase today since 260 households with 600 people have already been displaced so far due to the Melamchi floods following the early monsoon downpour.

These internally displaced persons are making differences in the trend of internal migration. Meanwhile, a serious challenge can be experienced to migrant and their families, people who have been displaced and those who are at risk of displacement. Nevertheless, due to lack of adequate climate sensitiveness and treatment of internal displacement as a temporary migration, internally displaced persons are missing from broad national study and a systemic integration measure. For better integration of migration and displacement issues into climate change, disaster risk reduction and development policy, it is necessary to understand how climate change is affecting to person who moves, where, how and under what circumstances.

What triggers climate migration in Nepal?

It is apparent that the environmental degradation and haphazard development initiative triggers climate change migration in Nepal. People are forced to migrate towards urban areas or safer places due to loss of biodiversity and food insecurity, desertification, and dead zone. For example, the Government of National Planning Commission published report shows that approximately 2.24% of total land where Mountain regions accounted 1.64%, Hill 1.90% and Terai 2.59% were made uncultivable due to flooding or soil erosion. This low agricultural productivity and food losses forces people, especially agro-based people to search for new sources of agricultural land, water and food. Whilst displaced people who have loss the livelihood opportunities and their properties as well as no hope for better future in origin are forced to move to new safer or urbanized places. Similarly, greater threat can be experienced to people living at high Himalaya due to melting and outburst of glacial lake as flood.

Another, large number of people are assumed to be displaced from their original places due to haphazard and unplanned development initiatives carried out in different ecological belt. In many parts of Nepal, several households of families are displaced involuntarily while carrying out the development projects like construction of hydropower project, irrigation projects, dams and highways. Without prior strategic consultation about developing planning, it is found that some of those development activities has adversely affected the topography of land, especially desertification and made highly vulnerable to climatic shock. Most interestingly, there is no proper data for adequate research and study about how many people have been displaced so far in the preliminary implementation of development project in Nepal.

Who are internally displaced?

Past scale and nature of displacement showed that internally displaced people are local communities who have enough resources to migrate or youth who seeks new opportunities of livelihoods in new areas. People receiving desired compensation of their land is likely to migrate towards the preferred areas for resettlement after shock. It is found that families whose member are working in foreign land supports or suggest them to undergo displacement by sending adequate and required amount of money in post extreme weather events. Besides, farmers who lack feasibility of agricultural productivity and points out land-based livelihood unsustainable tends to migrate. But new challenges like adaptation and adjustment of internally displaced person into the new ethnic community, socio-political and climatic condition is high. Sometimes it leads to further mobility.

Apart from it, climate change has adversely impacted to indigenous and marginalized groups having intersectional vulnerabilities. Especially, women who are heading-up the household in the absence of family and elderly parents whose children are working or residing abroad are the most vulnerable groups of internal displacement. A constant fear arises thinking about the life after resettlement or relocation in new areas. Marginalized communities who are tapped by the caste based occupational relationship, and fear of losing patrons are found reluctant to displacement. Likewise, some marginalized people avoid displacement after sudden climatic shocks due to poverty and lack of adequate resources for migration.

Where is the gap?

While overviewing the past large scale migration outflows, new displacements and climatic adaptive actions of the Government of Nepal, a proper recognition of vulnerable communities, effective integration measures to internally displaced persons and adequate financial funding to climate change actions are lacking. In absence of proper disaggregated data, the most vulnerable community who will face the direct impact of sudden climate shock and those who will be forced to choose migration not recognized. Though resources play a crucial role in shaping migration experience, migrants having enough resources and migrants without resources are not identified at the mean time of crisis. Its direct consequences can be experienced at the time resettlement in new areas. Migrants having adequate resources becomes more productive exploring stronger social connections and financial buffers in new homes with less material support from their communities whereas those with fewer resources must struggle for security and livelihood opportunities when they start to migrate. Affected families at origin who fails or denies relocating is exposed more towards poverty with multifaceted livelihood challenges and undermines their sustainable growth after shock. And notably, climate financing with gender equalities is comparatively lesser since the Government of Nepal has increased its budget allocation. For example, as per red book of the Ministry of Finance, direct climate relevant budget allocation was 18% in FY 2012/13 and reached to 69.22% in FY 2018/19. Enough climate finance resources are not reaching to the impacted communities who urgently required to have control over decisions, resources to manage the risk and adapt to changing situations. It is always foreseen that the government capacity is lacking to distribute humanitarian aid to displaced citizens on time in substantive manner.


As the Government of Nepal is strengthening climate actions by ratifying and endorsing several climate related international conventions such as the Kyoto protocol and Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants as well as national strategy on climate change and disaster risk reductions, building resilience and understanding on intersection between climate change, migration and vulnerable groups is important. Ensuring local government participation to maintain data system will ultimately improves the data availability on vulnerable and displaced population and hence strengthens the risk reductions and migration governance in Nepal. By identifying the vulnerable population beforehand helps to increase the wise materialization of resources to climate affected communities. For this the Government of Nepal needs to allocate enough resources to strengthen migration governance and ensure safe as well as adaptive climate-related mobility. An intergovernmental coordination, transparency and accountability is more required to implement the robust climate financing at grassroots level. Participation of women at mainstream level is foremost important while lived experience of indigenous and marginalized groups in climate change and migration discourse could be better pathway to integrate migration governance as broader climate action.

The views and opinions expressed in the piece above are solely those of the original author(s) and contributor(s). They do not necessarily represent the views of Governance Monitoring Centre Nepal and/or Centre for Social Change.