This study is an effort to contribute to the empirical literature on the diverse patterns of migration, adaptation measures by households facing environmental changes, and the role of migration in augmenting household adaptive capacities in four river basins of the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region, namely the Gandaki, the Indus, the Upper Ganga and the Teesta. Recent studies indicate that migration can be a powerful adaptation strategy for populations facing global environmental changes, by increasing the ability of the households to rely on their existing resource base. However, there still exist gaps in empirical findings, particularly quantitative studies investigating migration and adaptation, to fully support this.
Migration patterns in the study sites are diverse, ranging from seasonal/circular migration to international migration. However, most migration is internal and international migration is limited mainly to South-South movement. Migration is mostly male-dominated; however, female migration is increasing with women getting more educated and seeking employment opportunities in urban destinations. The major driver of migration decisions is economic, but environmental displacement was also prevalent in the study sites. The reasons for migration were consistent across the study basins, but differed between different streams of the same basin.
The adaptive capacities of households in four key sectors are analysed – agriculture, livestock, forestry, and water. The capacity of households to adapt to the negative effects of environmental changes and shocks in the study sites was low, and the adaptation measures undertaken mostly autonomous, except in the case of the water sector. The linkage between migration and household adaptive capacity was found to be positive, but statistically significant only in the agricultural sector. Thus, migration helps households’ adaptive capacity by spatially diversifying household income sources, but this potential is limited at present as remittances are small and mostly invested in meeting basic requirements. Thus, at present, migration is more a response strategy of the households to various changes, including environmental changes and their effects on local livelihoods.