Living with Floods in a Mobile Southeast Asia: A Political Ecology of Vulnerability, Migration and Environmental Change
Carl Middleton, Rebecca Elmhirst and Bernadette P. Resurrección
Carl Middleton, Rebecca Elmhirst and Supang Chantavanich
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Flooding is a common experience in monsoonal regions of Southeast Asia, where diverse flood regimes have for centuries shaped agrarian and fisheries-based livelihoods. However, in recent public discourse, the link between flooding and migration is most often made with regard to catastrophic flood events. News images of frequent and intense weather-related flood events in the region’s low-lying megacity and delta regions in recent years has contributed to a perceived link between extreme environmental events and mass migration through displacement. Yet, this focus on mass displacement frames migration in largely negative terms. Mobility is seen as a failure of adaptation to a changing environment, with both trans-border and internal population mobility to some even regarded as a security issue.
Yet, other kinds of stories linking migration and this catastrophic-type of flood do emerge, and these point to the need for a more nuanced and plural account of migration and mobility in relation to flood disasters. For example, shortly after Typhoon Haiyan, it became evident that Filipino migrants working abroad were finding ways of helping those back home who were affected by the disaster, bringing to bear not only their economic remittances but also their cultural and political capital in holding those responsible for the official disaster response to account. Thus, complex and seemingly contradictory links between migration and flood-related vulnerabilities emerged from this and similar events.
In this chapter, we propose a “mobile political ecology” conceptual framework for understanding how migration links to vulnerability and resilience across diverse environmental, social and policy contexts. Our aim is to complicate simple readings of environmental change – in particular flooding – as a singular driver of migration through exploring a diversity of flood-migration-vulnerability assemblages. Thus, we aim also to sensitize flood hazard policy agendas to the complexities of migration and mobility in Southeast Asia.
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