The impact of environmental change on labour migration from Nepal to the Gulf States




Jeevan, R. S.


The impact of environmental change on labour migration from Nepal to the Gulf States




Government Office for Science UK


The Himalayan country of Nepal is often understood as a ‘place’ of fragility, in terms of both fragile environment and fragile livelihoods. Important work on Nepal, including Resources and Population by Macfarlane (1976), The Himalayan Dilemma by Ives and Messerli (1989), ‘Food Crisis in Nepal’ by Bohle and Adhikari (1998) and Nepal in Crisis by Blaikie and colleagues (2001, 2002), have suggested that there are severe environmental and livelihood crises in Nepal. How have these ‘crises’ shaped labour migration from Nepal to various global destinations, the Gulf States in particular, that have emerged as one of the lucrative destinations for Nepalis? Given that labour migration has historically played a key role in sustaining rural livelihoods in Nepal and forms an important part of the economy of the Gulf States, how might we foresee the impact of environmental changes, both in Nepal and the Gulf States, on migration from Nepal? At the very outset it is useful to set a few parameters for this paper. First, this paper is based on a brief review of secondary evidence on environmental and socioeconomic changes and outmigration pattern in Nepal. It is neither meant to offer original evidence nor an exhaustive review of evidence of environmental change and outmigration from Nepal. Second, this paper was specifically commissioned to look at labour migration from Nepal to the Gulf States. Therefore, although a very brief reference is made to wider context of migration in/from Nepal, the main focus of the paper is on labour migration to the Gulf States in the context of environmental changes in Nepal. Third, it is not the purpose of this paper to attempt a causal analysis between environmental change and outmigration to the Gulf States but rather to look at how environmental changes might relate to various drivers of outmigration from Nepal. There is very little empirical evidence linking environmental changes and migration in Nepal. Based on a review of existing literature dealing with aspects of migration, environmental change and social change in Nepal, this paper is an attempt to understand how environmental changes in Nepal is affecting drivers of outmigration from Nepal. It outlines the existing nature, pattern and significance of labour migration and its contribution to the livelihoods of migrants and their households, and how it is directly impacted not just by environmental change in the Himalayan country of Nepal but also by the larger global processes linked to dynamic nature of global capital and labour circulation, ideas associated with modernity, shrinking livelihood opportunities in Nepal, political interregnum, and formal and informal networks and recruitment agencies that sustain the migration flow. Based on available evidence, this paper looks at how labour migration can contribute to development and adaptation in the face of environmental change in Nepal. It explores ways of looking forward and thus implications for policy response. In the following paragraphs, this paper provides a brief overview of the environmental, social or economic fragility in the sending context that has shaped labour migration from Nepal and how migration can be seen as a dynamic response by households to manage their livelihoods amid fragile socioeconomic and environmental context. The next section discusses trends in migration and remittances with specific emphasis on the Gulf States. It shows that migration to the Gulf States has emerged as the most dynamic feature of Nepali economy and society and it is likely to remain an important destination of migration in the years to come. The following section, then, presents an analysis of how migration to the Gulf States may be vulnerable to environmental, economic and political shocks and the changing economy of the Gulf States and how this in turn may have an impact on Nepali migrants.


Jeevan, R. S. (2011). The impact of environmental change on labour migration from Nepal to the Gulf States. London : Government Office for Science UK. URL :