Highlight 36/2021 –Indira Point- A Chapter from the history of Climate Induced Migration
Naga Anagha Lakshmi Palaparthy, 10 December 2021
“There is an issue that will define the continuity of this century more dramatically than any other, and that is the urgent threat of a changing climate”
– President Barack H Obama.
Through the case study of Indira Point, India this article aims to lay emphasis on how climate change has a global impact on cultural heritage, livelihood and migration making it a question for not just national governance but also for international governance.
The Andaman Nicobar islands are a group of 572 islands located in the Indian ocean. Indira point is the southernmost point of the republic of India’s territory and is a village in the Great Nicobar Island. It is located close to Sumatra Island, Indonesia. In the year 2004, an earthquake in the Indian Ocean caused a devastating tsunami. To add to the ongoing geographic turmoil at that time, India’s only active volcano, located in Barren Island (close to Port Blaire, Andaman), also erupted due to an increase in the seismic activity. Consequently, the elevation of Indira point at sea level was reduced by 4.25 meters submerging most of the village.
The official Indian records claim that a total of 1310 people (both tribal and people from the mainland) lost their lives to the Tsunami of 2004 in Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It is here noteworthy that natives of the Andaman Nicobar islands are mainly world’s most primitive tribal groups. These anthropologically significant and endangered tribes include the Nicobarese, Jarawas, Sentinelese and Onge tribes some of whom were heavily hit by the natural calamity. The Nicobarese tribe alone lost 656 people and more than 3000 tribal people were reported missing.
The government of India and those of the neighbouring states made Ex-gratia payments to the families of the deceased. Nations all over the world provided over US$14 billion in aid for damaged regions. Even so, who is really to be held responsible for this calamity and who should be paying for the damages caused? Migrants who have been pushed out of their home by a devastating natural calamity can hold the international system responsible for not taking enough measures towards sustainable development ; they can hold the state responsible for no proper early warning system; and they can hold all individuals responsible for not being climate sensitive. However, it is ultimately these migrants who pay the supreme price for inefficient governance. A key question still remains unanswered – can a price really be put on the damange caused to these tribals, their livelihood and heritage?
Indira Point today has only 4 households (as per the census of India 2011) and the population of this village today consists of a mere 27 people. Most people who lived here before have now moved to the mainland in India or have moved to other smaller Islands. Giving up on their tribal culture of hunting and gathering, these tribal people of the Nicobar Island strive to make a living out of labour and tourism in Andaman’s capital city, Port Blair. These tribal people are now exposed to the whimsy of exploitation because as unskilled contract based daily wage workers they now have to compete with a world that has moved towards technology and industrialisation. The modern education system has little space for new beginnings in this case because the tribal people have no basic understanding of any language other than their own. They are thus exposed to poverty, lack of food and access to a sustainable livelihood.
As demonstrated in this case study, the loss of heritage is one of the most important concerns of climate related migration. There are other islands spread all across the globe like Tuvalu, Fiji, Maldives etc. which are facing similar threats to total populations losing their habitats. The global rise in the number of climate migrants is alarming thereby making climate change the biggest concern of the 21st century. This cause is as much as an environmental concern as it is a political one. It transgresses state boundaries and generates global impact. Tsunamis, earthquakes and several other calamities are today induced mainly as a result of accelerated Climate Change therefore propelling it to be a crucial part of every country’s national interest. Only Concrete policy decisions and commitment from key actors at both international and domestic levels shall lead to sustainable development and climate security. The rising urgency for action to recede climate change and a plan for tackling climate related migration is the ultimate need of the hour and should therefore be dealt with utmost caution and planning. Today this story of Andaman Nicobar could lay forgotten but the complications of resettlement, the loss of cultural heritage, and the erosion of habitat should account to a lesson in history. A lesson on what could happen if this concern is not effectively addressed. A lesson on an urgency to change.
- Ilayaraja, K., Ioualalen, M., Chlieh, M., Krishnamurthy, R. R., & Murthy, M. V. R. (2008). Numerical Modeling of the 26th December 2004 India Ocean Tsunami at Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Journal of Coastal Conservation, 12(3), 115–124.
- Kesavan, P. C., & Swaminathan, M. S. (2007). The 26 December 2004 tsunami recalled: Science and technology for enhancing resilience of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands communities. Current Science, 92(6), 743–747.
- Mantri, V. A. (2005). Changes in local intertidal seaweed habitats in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands after 26 December 2004 tsunami. Current Science, 89(7), 1071–1072.
Naga Anagha Lakshmi Palaparthy, 10 December 2021, Highlight 36/2021, available at www.meig.ch
The views expressed in the MEIG Highlights are personal to the author and neither reflect the positions of the MEIG Programme nor those of the University of Geneva.