The Climate Crisis and Human Mobility
Image source: CliM’ Blog
The African continent remains vulnerable to ongoing global climatic changes despite doing very little to contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. A continent with varying climate regions and a dependency on rain-fed agricultural economies in many of its countries, it is primed to bear the full brunt of extreme weather conditions and natural disasters both in terms of food insecurity, loss of life, and destruction of facilities and infrastructure. Climate change is currently among one of the leading causes of migration globally, alongside conflict and political instability.
As in other world regions, migration within Africa is projected to increase by 2050 because of urbanisation, economic growth, and climate change. Global data indicates that the number of people displaced by sudden onset climate and weather-related disasters, such as storms and cyclones, averaged 22.5 million persons per year since 2008.
Each year, natural disasters force an average of 21.5 million people from their homes around the world, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Over the next 30 years, 143 million people are likely to be uprooted by rising seas, drought, searing temperatures, and other climate catastrophes. The number of migrants has doubled globally over the past decade, and the issue of what to do about rapidly increasing populations of displaced people will only become greater and more urgent.
Although we would like to simplify it, the reasons and drivers of migration are diverse and personal, with many people migrating to seek a better quality of life and economic opportunities, both within the country or between neighboring countries. It doesn’t negate the fact that the climate crisis is leaving many people with little to no option but to abandon their homes in search of a stable and safer environment. Developing countries are particularly affected. They face the challenge of dealing with the consequences of climate change with the limited resources available to them. Many people in these countries are forced to migrate in order to escape deteriorating living conditions. In the East and Horn of Africa, a fourth consecutive year of drought in the region has endangered the loss of livestock and livelihoods, leaving millions of people severely affected in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia, and pushing tens of thousands of families to leave their homes in search of food, water, and pasture, many to urban areas.
Climate change impacts (such as droughts, storms, and sea-level rise) endanger lives, destroy infrastructure, and diminish the livelihoods of the poorest. Although climate change is rarely cited as the sole cause of migration, it is widely acknowledged as a contributing and exacerbating factor in migration and conflict. Most climate-related migration observed currently is within countries or between neighbouring countries, rather than to distant high-income countries. A classic example of this can be seen in Nigeria, with desertification and deforestation affecting the northeastern states of the country, the nomadic Fulani tribe is seen migrating further inland. This movement has led to clashes between the Fulani people and other ethnic groups, caused both by the insurgency and environmental degradation in the wider Sahel region.
Human mobility has a long history in Africa and is a key driver of community resilience. Migration, which was once viewed as a development enabler, must now be considered in strategies to improve sustainable livelihoods and adapt to environmental pressures and climate change. In the future, an increasing number of people will leave their hometowns and villages because of climate change. Until now, climate-induced migration has primarily been limited to movements within the borders of the country in question. According to the World Bank, there could be an additional 143 million internal climate migrants in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and South Asia by 2050 unless decisive action is taken to further reduce climate change and mitigate its effects through adaptation measures.
Whilst global climate policy has progressed quickly in recent years in its integration of migration considerations, global migration policy has been slower to include climate and environmental dimensions, despite increasing acknowledgments of the relevance of these issues in contemporary migration governance. The nexus of climate change and migration necessitates innovative, quick, and detailed solutions to the multifaceted challenges it creates. The question is: how can we design and place focus on long-lasting sustainable solutions?
Devoting more resources to mitigating climate migration is a critical first step towards finding an effective solution to the problems at hand. There is a need for research to determine the best way to improve the migratory process itself, be it increasing migration monitors, providing safer modes of transportation, or consolidating and expanding destination country integration resources.
Continental and international bodies are already taking a step towards research needed to strengthen joint analysis and information sharing. This would go a long way to better map, understand, predict, and address migration movements, such as those caused by sudden and slow-onset natural disasters, the negative effects of climate change, environmental degradation, and other perilous situations, while ensuring the effective respect, protection, and fulfillment of all migrants’ human rights.
Countries and government agencies must develop strategies for adaptation and resilience to both sudden and slow-onset natural disasters. Monitoring the negative effects of climate change and environmental degradation, such as desertification, land degradation, drought, and sea level rise, while taking into account the potential implications for migration, would assist in recognising the importance of adaptation in the country of origin. While developing these strategies, it is also critical to incorporate displacement considerations and encourage cooperation with neighbouring and other relevant countries to prepare for early warning, contingency planning, stockpiling, coordination mechanisms, evacuation planning, reception and assistance arrangements, and public information.
Develop comprehensible strategies to tackle the challenges of migration movements in the context of spontaneous and gradual natural disasters, including taking relevant recommendations from State-led consultative processes. Coordinating initiatives and processes at the subregional and regional levels to address the vulnerabilities of people affected by sudden and slow-onset natural disasters would ensure they have access to humanitarian assistance that meets their basic needs, as well as by promoting long-term solutions that increase resilience and self-reliance while taking all countries involved into account.
Ifechi Anikwe is Junior Associate, Environment and Climate Action at Clean Technology Hub.