Three students at the La Follette School of Public Affairs conducted field research overseas during spring break as part of their Master of International Public Affairs capstone project.
Lara Rubinyi and Yimin Wang spent five days in China, and Kaubin Neupane traveled to India as part of their research project for the University of Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN), which assesses the vulnerability and readiness of urban areas. Teammate Arasu Sivappha coordinated the meetings in India and advised Neupane on which organizations to visit.
Through case studies in India and China, the students examined the effect of environmental change on migration. They spoke with migrants, government officials, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to better understand whether people relocate after disasters and what factors are important to measure urban adaptation. The guided conversations also allowed the students to look at differences and similarities between India and China.
“These field visits gave us a more nuanced and on-the-ground understanding of the social and political implications of aid and policy,” said Rubinyi. “By speaking to people and forming relationships with migrants, we are better able to represent their needs through the indicators we suggest to ND-GAIN.”
In China, Rubinyi and Wang focused on five populations: disaster victims, government leaders, NGOs, migrants, and academic scholars. They spoke with eight people in New Beichuan, a victim settlement town built from the ground-up following the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake, and then had conversations with residents of Chengdu, a city of 10 million people in southwest China.
Jay Pan, an associate professor in health policy and economics at Sichuan University, arranged for Rubinyi and Wang to meet with a student in environmental ecology and architecture and an expert on child and maternal health.
“We learned about specific policies and implementation realities of governments’ disaster relief efforts and assessed migrants’ access to public services in the cities,” Wang said. “It was inspiring to see NGOs like the Chengdu Volunteer Association working on urban adaptation.”
In India, Neupane met with representatives from the Center for Science and Environment, a research and advocacy organization that is documenting migrants’ stories, and from the Society for Labor and Development, which works on socio-economic development of migrants in cities.
“People in rural India are migrating to cities for various environmental and economic reasons,” he said. “Although it is difficult to distinguish between the two, lessons learned from the challenges of economic migrants in cities are common enough to be applicable to their environmental counterparts.”
Neupane also met with Saon Ray, a researcher with the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations. His conversation with Ray, who has worked on rural-urban migration issues, focused on migrant workers in general and the challenges of urban adaptation.