In June 2008, ICIMOD launched a regional project on ‘Too much and too little water – adaptation strategies to climate induced water stress and hazards in the greater Himalayan region’ to assess the current adaptation strategies to droughts and floods in selected mountain communities. One of the cross-cutting themes to emerge from the key preliminary findings of the first phase of the project was the recognition of labour migration as a major livelihood diversification strategy. The main objective of the second phase of the project was to assess the selected themes, including labour migration, in more depth and with greater emphasis on quantitative approaches.
The migration theme of the second phase of the ‘Too much and too little water’ project aimed to assess whether labour migration could be an adaptation to the impacts of water stresses and shocks. The study assumed that migration is one of several outcomes that exist in a portfolio of responses to stresses and shocks on livelihoods. It assessed whether in particular contexts (social, economic, cultural, political, and institutional) the remittances, financial or social, increased the resilience of the affected communities. The migration field assessments were conducted in selected communities in eastern Nepal, the state of Assam in India, the province of Yunnan in China, and the district of Chitral in Pakistan. A better understanding of the effects of contemporary water hazards on livelihoods, the rationale for choosing particular response strategies including migration, the agency of the migrant in the decision to migrate, the choice of destination, length of stay, the profile of the migrants and the impact of remittances on household adaptive capacity would in turn contribute to understand the possible future impacts of climate change intensified water hazards on labour migration. The survey covered over 1400 households in the four countries.
The Hindu Kush-Himalayan region is characterised by the erratic nature of precipitation, which is mainly concentrated in a few extremely intense rainfall events. Much of this precipitation flows quickly through the watersheds causing floods and barely replenishes the natural water reservoirs. During the rest of the year, there is too little water, which frequently leads to drought in many parts of the region. The stresses and shocks of water hazards on the local livelihoods is often compounded by other factors, such as low productivity of agriculture, lack in local investment and alternative livelihoods opportunities, and increase in the impacts of external and global processes. Besides these, the attractions of urban centres and aspirations for a better, different future often play a significant role in influencing livelihood choices, one of which is migration for work. This is increased by the growing levels of awareness due to improvements in the transportation and communication infrastructure in the region.