top of page

The Bangladeshi Diaspora: Unsung champions of confronting climate change-induced disasters

By Md Fazle Rabby | Issue #22

Bangladesh was the seventh most climate-affected country among 180 countries, according to the Global Climate Risk Index in 2021. People from different geographical parts of Bangladesh regularly encounter flooding, drought, cyclones, salinities, arsenic contamination, river erosion, landslides, and earthquakes. According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), in 2022, millions of Bangladeshis living in the north-eastern districts suffered the worst flooding in the history of Bangladesh. Climate change-induced disasters triggered humanitarian crises, including displacement (internal and external) and livelihood vulnerabilities. Historically, environmental catastrophes are one of the factors for internal and external migration.

Courtesy of the author.
Courtesy of the author.

The Bangladeshi diaspora comprising people from different districts of Bangladesh, is one of the largest diaspora communities in the world. There are simple correlations between the Bangladeshi diaspora and the climate-change concerns of Bangladesh. Oral testimonies from different generations of Bangladeshi diaspora suggest climate change-induced disasters and thereby affected livelihood act as both push (migrating overseas documented and undocumented) and pull (bringing in peers from the homeland) factors. However, hardly any social-historical survey on overseas migration from Bangladesh is available. According to interviewed diaspora interlocutors and former diplomats, the Bangladeshi diaspora is socio-psychologically affected by the miseries of left-behind families in Bangladesh due to emotional ties. Different diaspora associations claimed that the social engagement of the diaspora with local community networks in Bangladesh also impacts them when their native people in Bangladesh suffer economic, health, livelihood and life security threats due to climate change-induced vulnerabilities. The Bangladeshi diaspora, driven by their social and humanitarian obligation, psychologically and financially supports their left-behind families and peers in Bangladesh during and after disasters.

The Sylheti Londonis (Bangladeshi British) mobilised their social and economic remittances to help the flood-hit people of Bangladesh's north-eastern districts; the most recent example of diaspora playing a significant role in addressing climate change-related disasters. Bangladeshi diaspora interlocutors of the United Kingdom and the United States of America confirmed that they mobilised philanthropic funds (formally and informally) and transferred them (through official and unofficial channels) for the humanitarian cause to support flood-affected peers and left-behind families in Bangladesh to restore their lives and livelihoods. An example of fund mobilisation is the British High Commission and BRAC (a Bangladeshi NGO) partnership to invest £500,000 for post-flood recovery. The rigorous lobbying by the Bangladeshi diaspora in their host countries helps Bangladesh to access humanitarian aid from development partners like the European Union, the Foreign Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO), and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for flood sufferers' recovery and restoration of local infrastructures in flood-hit areas. The next-generation Bangladeshi diaspora is also active with their social and economic capital to address the climate change-induced challenges for Bangladesh. The next-generation’s role is crucial, considering they are gradually committed to helping Bangladesh due to their humanitarian commitment and descendent adherence despite having no direct attachment. The diaspora community helps their peer organisers in Bangladesh from different host countries organise small-to-large scale funds to help local communities resume the education of school and madrasa (“Muslim school”) children. Diaspora community organisations also help the Government of Bangladesh with complementary support to arrange essential healthcare support through medical camps, especially for children and women of reproductive age (with the need for maternal healthcare). British-Bangladeshi businessmen and their associations informed that they are organising contributory funds for farmers to start production and for local entrepreneurs to restart businesses. They also supported people at high risk, including elderly people, women with vulnerabilities, and persons with disabilities. This enhanced the social protection of the most vulnerable people and contributed to GoB's agenda of restoring and strengthening social security in flood-affected regions.

Members of the Bangladeshi diaspora, individually and as a community through formal and informal associations, support Bangladesh during disasters. Alongside, the Bangladeshi youth diaspora started to mobilise and connect with global networks and social networks in Bangladesh to emerge as change-makers. Bangladesh Diaspora Climate Action (BDCA) is an example of such a youth-led initiative. BDCA, like the youth diaspora forum, helps develop youth champions who will act both globally and locally in Bangladesh to confront climate change-induced foreseen and unforeseen challenges at present and in the future. The first and next generations of the Bangladeshi diaspora aid their peers to regain and retain social protections to minimise the social and economic burdens of the Government of Bangladesh.

Not all Bangladeshi diaspora members from different host countries can support Bangladesh during crises, for various known and unknown reasons. Lack of authentic or conflicting information is a critical factor that deters the diaspora from being motivated to help Bangladesh and people residing in Bangladesh during calamities. Another concern is that there are no public appeal arrangements or communication from Bangladesh, including the Government of Bangladesh. Other concerns include the authenticity and accountability of financial channels for remitting and local recipients' trustworthiness in transferring funds. Not all diaspora members have solid social contacts with their compatriots in Bangladesh.

In many cases, the absence of acknowledgement of diaspora contribution from the government and the civil society of Bangladesh also plays a demoralising factor. Despite their immense contributions to remedy Bangladesh's cataphoric situations, they remain unsung champions. The first-generation Bangladeshi diaspora's contribution as champions to address the climate effects in Bangladesh is still unacknowledged. Concerned government agencies are yet to recognise the next-generation Bangladeshi diaspora contributions and potential.

Acknowledging diaspora contributions as climate champions by both public and private sectors in Bangladesh will enhance their physical and emotional momentum to work more diligently to counter climate change-induced challenges, including disasters. The Bangladeshi government still needs to revise more than fifty climate change-related strategies and plans and come up with possible policy adaptations and new policy documents to build the bridge between the Bangladeshi diaspora and the government's national plans, programmes, and actions to fight climate change-caused adversities. The active participation of the Bangladeshi diaspora in Bangladesh's global advocacy is crucial to strengthen Bangladesh's climate diplomacy on international platforms. The global knowledge, skills, and networks of the Bangladeshi diaspora are equally essential to support the local to national preparedness of Bangladesh to address climate change-induced vulnerabilities.

Md Fazle Rabby is originally from the Coastal District Patuakhali of Bangladesh and is currently working as a Deputy Director-Research at Human Development Research Centre (HDRC), Bangladesh. His research experience and interests are in migration, diaspora, gender mainstreaming, climate change, multi-dimensional diplomacy and advocacy, policy analysis, and development globalisation. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.


bottom of page