On shrimp, salt and security: Livelihood risks and responses in south Bangladesh and east India

Environment, Development and Sustainability, 16(6)


Bangladesh and India are among the world’s most populous but also most vulnerable countries to environmental risks. In addition to storms, sea-level rise, floods and droughts, local communities face a multitude of pre-existing and concomitant economic and socio-political risks. To understand these risks and how communities respond to them is critical in securing community livelihoods.

We therefore ask what are the livelihood risks; how do they impact the human security of environment sensitive communities in Satkhira, Bangladesh and in Odisha, India; and, what are the responses of these communities to the livelihood risks?

The communities studied in Bangladesh depend mainly on the shrimp and fish resources of the Sundarbans mangrove forest. The two communities researched at Lake Chilika in India depend on fishing and salt farming, respectively. The field research, conducted in 2012 and 2013, shows that the communities face multiple and interacting livelihood risks. While storms and floods are common environmental risks in both countries, related livelihood risks are case-specific.

In Bangladesh, attacks by criminals are the major threat to human well-being, while in India, it is violent conflict between lake users. Unsustainable resource extraction is found in both study countries. In Bangladesh, shrimp farming weakens the flood protection, while in India, illegal prawn farming marginalizes poorer lake users. Accessing loans and labor migration are responses observed in both countries.

We conclude that adaptation to environmental changes needs to be sensitive to the interaction between governance, local institutions and socio-economic developments.

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