Tag Archives: climate change

Moving stories: the Sahel

The Sahel region is highly dependent on agriculture for livelihoods and the wider economy. Agriculture is almost entirely rain fed, dependent upon a 3-4 month rainy season that refills lakes and the rivers which, in turn, irrigate crops.  Annual rainfall is highly variable, some studies argue that the concept of ‘normal’ annual rainfall is almost meaningless in the Sahel. As well as erratic rainfall a number of other factors play an important part in creating the vulnerabilities of the people who live in the Sahel. Over the past half century a combination of land degradation, population growth and misplaced environmental and development policies have contributed to vulnerability. This vulnerability has in turn shaped patterns of migration and displacement. However, the changing climate is only one among a number of factors.

“Migration has now become an inevitable method of adaptation for us … As a means of survival for us and our animals, we are forced to continuously migrate despite all the risks involved. This is our form of adaptation. We have always mastered it, but if nothing is done to ensure the safety of our space and activities, we risk, one day, being forced to abandon our way of life and join the swelling ranks of the unemployed in the city.”

Hindu Oumarou Ibrahim, Peul Mbororo of Chad

At the Mentao Nord camp in Burkina Faso


Worsening environmental conditions in the Sahel have had a number of impacts on mobility. Historically, droughts have triggered massive displacement. The long drought of the “desiccation of the Sahel” that took place during the 70’s and 80’s created a large scale movement of people. This was primarily internal rather than cross border, and generally from the North to South of countries. It also created extensive rural to urban migration within countries. Where cross border movement did happen it tended to be from the landlocked Sahelian countries to the coastal countries.

However the connection between climate change and drought are not simple. The connections between drought and human movement is not simple either. Drought is often the result of natural variations in weather, however these variations are dangerously intensified by climate change. So while it is impossible to state that climate change caused a particular drought, it also not the case that climate change has no effect. The current understanding is that drought – including in the Sahel – is made more likely by human induced climate change.

“I crossed the border with my animals, my donkeys, my children and my wife. I traveled to Timbuktu crossed the river and came down to Burkina. I walked every day until sunet and after I would go to bed. The journey took three months. “ 

Malian man, in Burkina Faso

Further, the effect of drought on movement not simple. Moving usually requires financial resources and as income from farming falls, households have less money with which to move. During the severe drought in the Sahel region during 83-85 there was widespread displacement. However in Mali mobility actually decreased. Households did not have the resources to move, and so stayed where they were inspite of worsening conditions. This is an example of how a changing environment can in fact lead to less mobility, trapping vulnerable people in high-risk areas.

Encroaching deserts are threatening much of Africa’s arable land, if trends continue two thirds of arable land could be lost by 2025. The Sahel is particularly vulnerable to encroaching desert, this combined with drought and more perennial water scarcity is threatening livelihoods, the UNFP estimates the the 2011 sahel drought left 11m people without enough to eat. The 2012 current food crisis impacted on 18m people and left 1m children malnourished. This year the UN is again calling for $1.6 bn in humanitarian aid (the same figure as 2012) as 10.3 m face the risk of going hungry in 2013. This warning comes whilst the region is still in the grips of hunger.

The testimonies in this article are taken from the IOM’s International Dialogue on Migration, Climate Change, Environmental Degradation and Migration and the Refugees International video Sahel: Malian Refugees and Hosts Hit Hard by Crises


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Round up of news and research: climate change, migration and displacement

Displacement, Migration, and Climate Change: the Discussion at COP18. Yale Climate and Energy Institute.

“At COP18, climate-induced migration was not a major point on the official agendas of the various negotiating tracks, however one side event on December 3rd, 2012 chose to focus on this issue in depth. Sponsored by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the event highlighted recent research on climate-induced migration and discussed possible strategies to confront the challenges it imposes.”


The Many Faces of Climate Displacement, Refugees International blog

Alice Thomas of Refugees International writes … “As manager of the Bacon Center for the Study of Climate Displacement at Refugees International, I had come to Mali to assess the needs of hundreds of thousands of Malians, who were facing not only extreme weather, but a deadly combination of weather and war. “


Call For Papers: Special Issue of Refuge on environmentally induced displacement.

This special issue will explore the phenomenon of environmentally induced displacement (EID).  From climate change to extractive industries, from ‘natural’ disasters to increased urbanization, from conservation to mega-projects, landscapes and peoples’ place on them are being transformed at an unprecedented scale across the globe.


Event: 30th January. Arctic Indigenous Peoples, Displacement, and Climate Change: Tracing the Connections.

“For thousands of years, Arctic peoples have migrated in response to changing environmental conditions. But today climate change is putting unprecedented pressure on those indigenous communities.”

“On January 30, the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement will explore the relationship between climate change and population movements in the Arctic through three recent case studies.”

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Migration becoming common survival strategy in the face of changing rainfall

Alex Randall

The University of the UN and Care have release a report looking at relationship between changing rainfall, livelihoods and migration. We reported on the new maps the project produced  back in September. The final report of the project shows that migration is increasingly becoming a key survival strategy for people who’s livelihoods are impacted by changing rainfall patterns.

On the relationship between changing rainfall and migration the research finds:
    • Migration – seasonal, temporal, and permanent – plays an important part in many families’ struggle to deal with rainfall variability and food & livelihood insecurity;
    • Migration was found to have increased in recent decades in a number of the research sites;
    • Households with more diverse assets and access to a variety of adaptation, livelihood diversification, or risk management options can use migration in ways that enhance resilience;
    • Almost entirely within national borders;
    • Predominantly male, but with growing participation by women in a number of countries (with India as the exception where entire nuclear families moved together);
    • Seasonal, temporal or permanent migration patterns;
    • Largely by individual household members (except in the India research site);
    • Largely driven by livelihood-related needs (household income) in most countries, but with a growing number of migrants seeking improved skill sets (e.g. through education) in countries like Thailand, Vietnam and Peru;
    • A mix of rural-rural and rural-urban, with more productive agricultural areas (Ghana, Bangladesh, Tanzania), nearby urban centers (Peru, India),
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Doha: will this year’s climate negotiations create better support and protection for people at risk of displacement linked to climate change?

Alex Randall

Migration and displacement are rarely talked about in news stories about UN climate negotiations, in spite of the fact that some interesting progress has been made on these issues. This year’s talks in Doha are no exception.

The Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development has produced a short report of the areas of the talks that look at migration and displacement and the potential they hold for creating more support or legal protection for people at risk.

The most significant advance at the negotiations was two years ago when the talks took place in Cancun. The statement agreed “invites all parties” to consider

“Measures to enhance understanding, coordination and cooperation with regard to climate change induced displacement, migration and planned relocation, where appropriate, at the national, regional and international levels”.

Although this might seem like tiny piece of text it is actually very important. It indicates a first step towards considering displacement and migration within the UN’s climate negotiations. The paragraph could either be strengthened or diluted at Doha over the next couple of weeks.

The negotiations also contain a stream of talks focusing on “loss and damage”. This essentially means the ways in which countries might deal with the effects of increasingly severe and frequent natural disasters. Negotiations around loss and damage recognise that while adaptation might allow some areas to change and accommodate some of the effects of climate change, many areas will be facing sudden shocks that will create widespread loss of life, injury and damage to property and infrastructure. These disasters may also have migration and displacement consequences. In previous rounds of talks island states and Least Developed Countries have made proposals that would help them cope with the loss and damage associated with disasters. Their proposals included insurance and compensation to help with the financial costs of “rehabilitation” of areas damaged by disasters. The insurance and compensation could have helped these countries support groups of people forced to move by disasters. However the proposals were rejected.

Negotiations on loss and damage are handled by a working group at the UN negotiations called the Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI). This year in Doha the SBI is considering new proposals on loss and damage and there is the possibility that something more positive could emerge.

As the Field report concludes:

The question now is: will climate displacement and migration finally be fully and bravely addressed in UNFCCC negotiations? Or is the future of climate exiles best determined through bilateral and regional agreements? It is clear that attention has been building with regard to this situation, but more action and international commitment is needed for more concrete steps towards dealing with the individuals vulnerable to climate displacement and migration, who ultimately face a rather bleak and uncertain future without sufficient legal safeguards to protect their rights or interests.

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World disasters report: special focus on forced migration

From the executive summary:  “This year’s World Disasters Report focuses on forced migration and on the people forcibly displaced by conflict, political upheaval, violence, disasters, climate change and development projects, whose numbers are increasing inexorably each year. The enormous human costs of forced migration – destroyed homes and livelihoods, increased vulnerability, disempowered communities, and collapsed social networks and common bonds – demand urgent and decisive action by both humanitarian and development actors.

The report analyses the complex causes of forced migration and its consequences and impacts on displaced populations, their hosts and humanitarian actors. It looks at the significant gaps in humanitarian protection for ever-increasing numbers of forced migrants who do not fit into conventional categories of protection, and the public health challenges caused by forced displacement, particularly for women, children and those with mental ill-health problems. It examines the ‘urbanization’ of forced migration, the role of climate change and environmental factors in forced displacement and how new communications, information and social networking technologies are reshaping the links between aid providers and migrants. It also tracks humanitarian funding for forcibly displaced populations, as well as the positive and negative economic impacts they have on host communities and countries.”

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We’re recruiting: executive director

COIN is looking for a new director. As well as our work on migration and climate change, COIN also runs several other innovative projects.

More information and the application form are available here. 

“Are you keen, willing to take some risks, live with uncertainty and deal with anything and everything and then some more. All tempered with experience, a fine mind and good people-skills.  We expect a certain level of resilience and maturity, and an ability to step around the dangers of burnout.”

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Part of the solution? Rethinking climate change and migration

There are a range of ‘positive’ ways of framing the relationship between climate change and migration. This does not mean dismissing the very real dangers that people in at-risk areas face, but it does mean talking about climate-induced migration as part of the ‘solution’ rather than as part as the problem. A frame in which migration is part of the solution starts from the position that migration is not inherently a bad thing. It becomes problematic when it is forced, and causes harm, but this harm can be minimised by planning and working pro-actively with vulnerable communities.

This framing is positive in the sense that it recognises the pros as well as the cons of migration, but also in the sense that it promotes agency for the people who are migrating. This approach would not be appropriate for situations where migration is forced or involuntary. But if it is used to promote rapid action to prevent forced migration, then it may still be a useful frame.

The risk of pursuing this frame is that it may depoliticise a fundamentally political issue into a ‘safe’ space, from where it is impossible to advocate. Using this frame in an effective way means promoting migration as part of the solution while simultaneously highlighting the very real threats that vulnerable populations face.

How can migration be framed as part of the solution? Human populations have always been in flux, and the challenge (as with other impacts of climate change) is to manage the risks effectively through forward planning. The future will hold many challenges, of which this is one, and the best way of managing it is by building resilience. Taking a proactive approach to anticipating the climate-related risks that vulnerable populations will face, and working collaboratively with these groups to plan and make decisions will increase resilience to climate change. For example, one family member migrating for work to supplement a subsistence income could provide a valuable contribution to food security, allowing the family to remain in their current location (if, indeed, they wanted to).

Many impacts of climate change are now unavoidable – but the harm they cause is not inevitable if urgent and effective adaptation is put into place, supported by solidarity between citizens of different nations, who all face a shared challenge. This kind of language – and the framing it embodies – speaks to strongly selftranscending values of kindness, benevolence, and empathy.

This is an edited extract from our report Communicating Climate Change and Migration.

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Exploring the complex connections between rainfall, livelihoods and migration

A new of series of maps have just been released which help illustrate the complex relationships between climate change, rainfall, livelihoods, water and migration. The maps are part of the Where the Rain Falls project, a collaboration involving CARE International and the University of the United Nations. The research looks at how migration is becoming a common adaptive response to water stress caused by changing rain fall patterns. Participants in the survey element of the research consistently pointed to migration as risk management strategy. The conclusions reinforce existing research on migration in response to environmental change. People often migrate seasonally rather than permanently; people move in order to find non-farm work; and one or two household members tend to migrate diversifying household income.


From the Earth Institute blog post: The Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) has worked closely with CARE and the United Nations University to develop a series of maps illustrating results from case studies in eight countries for the Where the Rain Falls project. The project aims to illustrate the relationship between rainfall variability and human vulnerability in the context of a changing climate, livelihoods, and migration as a strategic response.

Under the conditions that prevail in Same District, changes in rainfall patterns translate directly into impacts on crop and livestock production and food security. Water scarcity is the most commonly identified problem by the residents of this area, and research participants consistently identified drought as the biggest threat to their livelihoods. Given the dearth of alternative local off-farm employment opportunities, migration is a very important risk management strategy for households in these villages.  Migration patterns vary across the three villages, but seasonal migrants outnumber those migrating for more than six months. Although the largest migration flows seem to be to another rural area,  rural-to-urban migration is also seen, with nearly one-third of survey respondents identifying Tanzania’s capital, Dar es Salaam, as the most common destination.

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