Social protection and informal job market reform for tackling the climate migration nexus


The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), London, published this working paper on September 30, 2022. It was written by Ritu Bharadwaj, Nikhil Raj, N Karthikeyan, Roopashree Shanker, Johnson Topno and Daljeet Kaur. The research was funded by the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office of the UK government under the Infrastructure for Climate Resilient Growth programme.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, (IPCC) estimates displacement of 31 to 72 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America by 2050 due to water scarcity, rising sea levels and crop failures. Already, according to the IPCC, more than 20 million people across the world have faced displacement each year since 2008 due to extreme weather events. This working paper highlights how communities in two districts in India – Kendrapara in Odisha and Palamu in Jharkhand – are forced into distress migration due to changing climate, lack of social protection measures and marginalisation.

The paper examines instances of both slow-onset and rapid-onset climate hazards – drought in Jharkhand, floods and cyclone in Odisha. It recommends improved social protection measures and reforms in the labour market to support communities before, during and after migration and for those who are left behind. 

The 38-page working paper contains a summary followed by four sections: Introduction (Section 1); Influence of climate impacts, access to social protection and marginalisation on migration (Section 2); Access to social safety net and protection under job market regulation: issues faced by migrants before, during and after migration (Section 3); and Recommendations (Section 4). It also provides an ‘Overview of methodology’ as an annexure.


  1. According to data from the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, Belgium, nearly 20 million people in India were impacted by climate-related hazards in 2020. Further, the State of Climate in Asia 2020 report by the World Meteorological Organization noted that such hazards resulted in an economic loss equal to 0.9 per cent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP).

  2. More than two per cent of India’s GDP is spent on core social protections programmes, the paper notes. Moreover, central and state government budget estimates for social security and welfare are calculated to be around 1.6 trillion rupees. However, as per the paper, programmes such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Scheme (MGNREGS) are insufficient to assist migrant communities in facing climate-related crises.

  3.  A 2021 IIED publication titled Loss and damage case studies from the frontline: A resource to support practice and policy showed that climate change multiplied the stress of existing socioeconomic factors. This forced more people to migrate under distress in search for alternate livelihoods – 69.74 per cent of households across Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan reported migrating immediately after droughts, floods, hailstorms or heat waves.

  4.  Loss and damage resulting from extreme climate increased the odds of migration by 687 per cent when faced with rapid-onset events like the floods and cyclones in Odisha). On the other hand, the odds rose by 172 per cent in slow-onset scenarios such as the drought in Jharkhand.

  5. The likelihood of migration decreased in both rapid-onset (66 per cent) and slow-onset (59 per cent) cases when a job card was made available under social security programmes.

  6. The paper also found marginalisation to be a notable factor for migration in Jharkhand which faced slow-onset climate events. Compared to families belonging to other social groups, those from socially backward castes reported 338 per cent higher chances of migration.

  7. Although migration helps in immediately dealing with a climate crisis, it also creates specific risks and negative consequences for migrants and their families left behind. Women who stay back after men migrate are often burdened with household chores in addition to working for pay. Conversely, women who migrate are at risk of sexual exploitation and difficult living conditions, the paper notes.

  8. According to the paper, a majority of the migration happens “unnoticed, unreported and undocumented” as intermediaries facilitating migration and labour often confiscate identity cards and mobile SIM cards.

  9. Of the overall Indian workforce, 90 per cent is informal in nature, the paper states citing the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) Report on Conditions of Work and Promotion of Livelihoods in the Unorganised Sector. Additionally, a majority (91 per cent) of the informal workforce falls under the unorganized sector and 92 per cent of the workforce having informal employment consists of migrant labour.

  10. As per the paper, administrative delays in sanction of work and payment keep households from relying on MGNREGS during crises. Compelled to work in informal sectors, workers are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Without social protections or support migrants are further subject to stress and depression.

  11.  The National Crime Records Bureau report on Accidental Death & Suicides in India 2021 revealed that a quarter of the recorded 164,033 suicide cases in 2021 were among daily wage earners. The graph of death by suicide among daily wage earners has risen in the past few years from 15,735 in 2014, to 37,666 in 2020 and 42,004 in 2021, the paper notes.

  12. To combat the climate crisis and its effects on the migrant population, the report recommends measures to strengthen social protection programmes and job market regulations. These should be applicable in all stages of the process – before, during and after migration.

  13. The paper recommends creating robust management structures and information systems to improve responses to potential risks. It also suggests planning in advance for expected migration as it would aid in creating and developing opportunities for migrants.

  14. Ensuring access to social assistance at both source and destination areas is crucial in assisting migrants, the paper advocates. It also calls for assistance in the form of migration advisory and helpline services to provide safer migration of people during crises.

    Focus and Factoids by Aashna Daga.


Ritu Bharadwaj, Nikhil Raj, N Karthikeyan, Roopashree Shanker, Johnson Topno and Daljeet Kaur


International Institute for Environment and Development, London


30 Sep, 2022