Climate Change

Odisha’s model colony for climate refugees in Kendrapara should be emulated across India

More than 45 million people in the country will be forced to migrate due to environmental disruptions by 2050 

Saraswati Mohanty, a resident of the Baghpatia Colony, in front of her partially constructed house. Photo: ActionAid

The Chief Minister of Odisha recently sanctioned Rs 22 crore to develop the Satabhaya Baghpatia Thithan Colony in Kendrapara district as a model colony under the Government of Odisha’s Adarsh Colony initiative. The announcement provides hope to people displaced by climate change and suffering from the impact of sea incursions for many decades.

A combination of factors makes coastal Odisha a climate change hotspot. It is a cyclone-prone area, and the intensity and frequency of cyclones have increased over the recent years. The destruction of mangroves and unchecked construction activity have increased the vulnerability to extreme weather events.

Elderly residents of Satabhaya, a village in the eastern state, have painful memories of past displacements. Satabhaya, meaning seven brothers, was named after the original seven villages which were lost to the sea before the 1970s. 

Villagers from those seven villages moved inward and settled in five new villages under the Satabhaya Gram Panchayat. Over the following decades, villagers from the Satabhaya panchayat again left for safer locations as their agricultural and homestead lands were being swallowed up by the intruding sea or laid to a sandy waste.  

ActionAid Association visited the resettlement colony at Baghpati as part of a study on climate change’s impact on people in coastal areas. 

Around 751 households displaced from seven coastal villages were rehabilitated in the resettlement colony, the team found. 

However, 33.45 per cent of the houses are incomplete and the construction work of a few homes had not yet started. More than two-thirds of the houses were partially constructed, without toilets and drainage systems.

Our study also found that only 10 decimals of land (a decimal is a hundredth of an acre) were allocated to people, though their homestead areas in Satabhaya were 3-5 times of that. 

In their interactions with the study team, residents pointed to the sea, at the tip of a temple spire visible only when the waves recede and to areas where fertile agriculture lands once existed. 

They also shared rent receipts as proof of possession. At the resettlement site, people have not been given titles for the homestead land allocated.

Access to drinking water, educational and health services are minimal in the resettlement colony.  In a discussion, residents told us that neighbouring villages do not want to marry their girls to villages which may once again be lost to the sea, and their work burdens have increased as making ends meet means they’ve to work a lot harder.  

Satabhaya is only one of the many villages lost to the sea, leaving behind communities to find new homes and ways to survive. 

Satabhaya is like the tip of the iceberg of displacements unfolding due to the worsening climate crisis. 

ActionAid’s 2020 report Costs of Climate Inaction: Displacement and Distressed Migration stated that India had a total of 14 million people internally displaced due to environmental disruptions. More than 45 million people will be forced to migrate from their homes by 2050.  

Anthropogenic climate change has not only increased the frequency and hazard intensity of the rapid-onset events like cyclones, landslides and storm surges, but it has also made India highly prone to displacement due to slow-onset events like water stress, coastal and riverine erosion, continued crop failures and ecosystem loss.  

A need for a participatory assessment framework that covers economic, social and psychological loss and damage is a first step to paving the way for a sensitive policy appreciation for designing resettlement and rehabilitation.  

A feminist and rights lens to such an assessment would be crucial in building back for progressive futures. A resettlement plan oblivious to visible and invisible losses women and girls suffer due to displacements as well as blind to the need for better futures for all, will be a step backwards.  

A climate justice framework that recognises that communities with the smallest ecological footprints and have only served humanity as frontline ecology defenders are the ones who suffer the most must inform our thinking and action for compensation and rehabilitation.  

In this context, the news of the sanction of funds to build the Satabhaya Baghpatia Thithan Colony as a model colony is positive. While the plan announced also includes the provision of agricultural land to displaced households, it will be critical to ensure that a principle of land for land is observed on the basis of past land records and also with the promise of land to landless families. The model should be emulated across the country. 

India and other countries of the Global South won a hard-fought victory at the 27th Conference of Parties (COP27) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Egypt in setting up an international fund for compensating climate-induced losses and damages. Now it becomes imperative to create mechanisms for its implementation within the country.  

We stand at the crossroads of an impending climate catastrophe. The decisions we take today for those bearing the greatest impact of climate change will pave the way for the future course of our lives, livelihoods and civilisation. 

Sandeep Chachra, Debabrat Patra and Koustav Majumdar work with the ActionAid Association India.

Views expressed are the authors’ own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth.

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