The Impact of Vulnerability and Resilience to Environmental Changes on Mobility Patterns in West Africa

Caroline Zickgraf, Sara Vigil, Florence de Longueville, Pierre Ozer, François Gemenne

Migration can either be seen as a failure to adapt or as a positive vision of mobility. Whether migration is a forced movement or an adaptation strategy depends on the characteristics of the affected people and institutional capacity to prevent external shocks.

Sea level rise, floods and drought are weather extremes that are significantly influencing mobility patterns in West Africa but cannot be isolated from other social, economic and political factors. West Africa is a region where natural resources form the foundation of livelihoods and food security but local populations can be hit differently by the same climatic threats due to their different socio-economic status. Usually, it is not the poorest people who migrate as demonstrated in a research conducted during a severe drought in the 1980’s. The study found a decrease in migration -immobility- explained by the fact that migration requires financial capital. In some cases migrants themselves increase the vulnerability of their communities by leaving, creating a depletion of workforce and skills. Conversely, migration can have positive impacts and reduce the vulnerability of migrant communities through remittances, knowledge sharing and skill transfer.

This working paper highlights the necessity of seeing climate-induced migration as part of a social context that interacts with prevailing conditions and allows perspectives that challenge existing power structures. Policy makers must consider vulnerabilities, as it is perceived by those affected and design policies in accordance with their needs.


Image credit: IFPRI-IMAGES (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) from

Chanelle Andrén is a volunteer at UK Climate Change and Migration Coalition and writes the round up of new research on climate change, migration and displacement. Her background is in International Human Rights Law with specialisation in ‘Just Transitions’.

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