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The University of Southampton
The India Centre for Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Development

Delving into Deltas

Research into migration across deltas in India.

The DEltas, vulnerability and Climate Change: Migration & Adaptation (DECCMA) project has been a five-year programme analysing the impacts of climate change and other environmental drivers on migration across contrasting deltas in Africa and Asia. 

This extensive £8.2 million, 24 institution project has undertaken research into deltas that is vital since they are home to 500 million people worldwide and represent a climate change “hotspot” – a place where high exposure to climate stresses coincides with high levels of vulnerability. 

The large and mega-deltas of India and Bangladesh are of particular interest as the populations that rely on them for livelihoods are threatened by sea-level rise and subsidence, increased storminess and salt levels in the soil. Other drivers include upstream catchment changes and land use change to destructive shrimp farming and depletion of fish stocks, making deltas very dynamic settings. 

The DECCMA consortium was led by Professor Robert Nicholls, Professor of Coastal Engineering within Engineering and Physical Sciences. Professor Nicholls’ research concerns long-term coastal engineering and management, especially the issues of coastal impacts and adaptation to climate change, with an emphasis on sea-level rise. He was supported by Professor Craig Hutton, Professor of Sustainability Science within Geography and Environmental Science. Professor Hutton’s research focus lies at the intersection between the environment and social implications of environmental/climate change and management for sustainable development. 

Professor Nicholls explains what the research has shown and how it will help plan for the future.

"Deltas are often seen as potential sources of huge numbers of environmental refugees due to sea-level rise. Our research shows that whilst it is certainly the case that climate change will generate displaced persons, large migration flows occurring today are mainly due to a variety of economic factors and rural to urban migration – hence climate change will exacerbate existing migration flows rather than create new ones. The scope for adaptation to preserve these food basket areas is also large and will require strategic and innovative action."

Research methods

The project has included a number of research methods, such as risk and vulnerability mapping, policy analysis, economic modelling, socio-ecological scenario development and household surveys. These surveys investigated adaptation strategies and migration behaviour across the deltas through surveys of women and men in over 5000 households in areas ranging from low to high exposure to natural hazards. This survey was followed by another of more than 2500 individual migrants in receiving areas in cities in or near the deltas.

The consortium was funded by the International Development Research Centre, Canada, and the Department for International Development, UK, and mainly involved partners from India, Bangladesh, Ghana and the UK. The group’s research covered climate and environmental change, migration and adaptation in three delta systems: the transboundary Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna megadelta (comprising the Indian Bengal delta, as well as the part in Bangladesh), the Mahanadi in India, and the Volta in Ghana. 

In 2019 the results of the project will be published in a book titled “Deltas in the Anthropocene".

For further information on DECCMA

Related Staff Member

Related Staff Member

Our research shows that whilst it is certainly the case that climate change will generate displaced persons, large migration flows occuring today are mainly due to a variety of economical factors and ruran to urban migration.

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