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Assessing the Impact of Climate Change on Migration and Conflict

Assessing the Impact of Climate Change on
Migration and Conflict
Clionadh Raleigh, Lisa Jordan and Idean Salehyan
This paper has been commissioned by the World Bank Group for the "Social Dimensions of Climate
Change" workshop. Views represented are those of the authors, and do not represent an official
position of the World Bank Group or those of the Executive Directors of the World Bank or the
overnments they represent. The World Bank does not guarantee the accuracy of data presented in
this paper.
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Assessing the Impact of Climate Change on Migration
and Conflict*
Clionadh Raleigh
University of Essex
Centre for the Study of Civil War-
International Peace Research Institute
Lisa Jordan
Florida State University
Idean Salehyan
University of North Texas
*This paper was written under contract 7145451 between PRIO and the World Bank for the
program on ‘Exploring the Social Dimensions of Climate Change’. The opinions expressed
in this document represent the views of the authors and do not necessarily state or reflect
those of the World Bank.
Executive Summary iv
Introduction 1
Changes in the Current Discourse 2
Changing Perspectives on Climate Change Induced Migration 3
A Changing Framework 3
The Impacts and Migration Potential of Select Disasters 5
Droughts and Famines 6
Floods and Slides 6
Cyclones, Hurricanes and Waves 7
Extreme Temperatures 7
Sea Level Rise 7
Estimating Affected Populations and Migrant Potential 8
Table 1: Summary of EM-DAT Statistics by Disaster 9
Table 2: Summary of EM-DAT Disaster Statistics by Region 10
Chart 1: Relative Disaster Frequency 11
Chart 2: Relative Disaster Affect 12
Chart 3: Number and Percentage of Populations
Affected by Drought 12
Hotspots and Predictions 13
Map 1: Vulnerability to Floods, Droughts and Wind Storms 14
Map 2: Population Change in High Risk Areas (Flood) 15
Table 3: Areas Highly Vulnerable to Disasters in Near Future 16
Coping with Increased Environmental Risks 16
Building Resilience to Degradation, Droughts and Famine 17
Coping with Sudden Onset Disasters 18
Direct and Indirect Environmentally Induced Migration 19
Table 4: Typology of Potential Migrants 20
Internal Migration 20
Distress Migration 22
Local Displacement 23
Seeking Aid 24
Permanent Relocation and Resettlement 25
The Effects of Government Policies on Environmental Migrants 28
Government Policies Which Influence Vulnerability and Coping 29
Table 5: Government Policies Which Influence Vulnerability
And Resilience 30
Government Polices Influencing Labour and Distress Migration 32
Table 6: Government Polices Influencing Labour and
Distress Migration
Migration and Conflict 34
Linking Migrations to Conflict 34
Conclusions and Future Research 37
Bibliography 41
Executive Summary
Climate change is expected to bring about significant changes in migration patterns
throughout the developing world. Increases in the frequency and severity of chronic
environmental hazards and sudden onset disasters are projected to alter the typical migration
patterns of communities and entire countries.
We examine evidence for such claims and roundly conclude that large scale
community relocation due to either chronic or sudden onset hazards is and continues to be
an unlikely response. We propose an alternate framework through which to examine the
likely consequences of increased hazards. It is built upon the five major conclusions of this
First, disasters vary considerably in their potential to instigate migration. Moreover,
individual, community and national vulnerabilities shape responses as much as disaster
effects do. Focussing on how people are vulnerable as a function of political, economic and
social forces leads to an in-depth understanding of post-disaster human security.
Second, individuals and communities in the developing world incorporate
environmental risk into their livelihoods. Their ability to do so effectively is contingent upon
their available assets. Diversifying income streams is the predominant avenue through which
people mitigate increased hazards from climate changes. Labour migration to rural and urban
areas is a common component of diversified local economies. In lesser developed countries,
labour migration is typically internal, temporary and circular.
Third, during periods of chronic environmental degradation, such as increased soil
salinization or land degradation, the most common responses by individuals and
communities is to intensify labour migration patterns. By doing so, families increase
remittances and lessen immediate burdens to provide.
Fourth, with the onset of a sudden disaster or the continued presence of a chronic
disaster (i.e. drought or famine), communities engage in distress migration patterns. The
characteristics of distress migration are quite different within and across countries as they are
shaped by the severity and geography of a crisis, the ability of a household to respond,
evacuation opportunities, existing and perpetuating vulnerabilities, available relief, and
intervening government policies. However, generally communities face three choices in
relief: 1) to depend on social networks for relief; 2) to be processed by agencies to access aid
and investigate possible resettlement options or 3) to relocate to camps for temporary or
long term resettlement assistance. The first option is a very common response to disasters.
The third option remains understudied but is frequently cited as the most probable response
to Sea Level Rise in vulnerable countries. In generally, disaster victim return rates are quite
high, although little research has been done on this stage of migration.
Fifth, as environmental migration is typically internal and short term, the potential
for instigating conflict is quite minimal. However, unstable urban and rural demographics are
related to higher risks of civil war and low level communal conflicts during periods of
environmental stress are common.
While it is important to highlight environmental pressures and their association with
migration, the term ‘environmental refugee’ conflates the idea of disaster victim with refugee
and reduces the complexity of real situations. We emphasize the linkage between the
economic and political vulnerabilities of households and communities with the extent of
migrations practiced. We consider how governments and external organizations affected
those migrations, and design policy matrices to compare policies designed to address
environmental migration.
These conclusions should be considered with multiple caveats. First and foremost,
we relied heavily on case studies of previous disasters to determine the main points of our
framework. These case studies emphasise the differences across groups, locations and
disasters, but do not consider the ‘worst case’ climate change scenarios promoted in public
discourse. Further, the social consequences of climate change generally, and migration and
climate change specifically, are quite under-researched. The framework promoted here can
inform future studies on migration victim profiles, and serve as a basis for the development
of prediction models on migration and conflict risk using climate inputs.
This is a stocktaking piece on the social consequences of climate change, with a specific focus on the
relationship between environmental hazards and migration. This paper surveys the available
literature on disaster migration to offer sound and reasonable projections on future migration
patterns in response to the direct and indirect changes due to climate change. Further, it assesses the
propensity for increased social conflict as a consequence of intensified migration patterns.
Although it is accepted that increased disasters and chronic environmental degradation will
be followed by population movements, it is unclear what form such migrations will take. Our study
discusses local reactions and adaptations to short and medium term climate changes. We do so by
reviewing case studies of natural disaster affected communities, their migration practices, and
government policies toward relief and adaptation1. We discuss how migrants in developing states
designate the form of migration in response to hazards and economic hardships. Government and
international agencies influence those patterns through regulations regarding land use, migration
policies, and migrant assistance in receiving areas.
We begin by discussing why migration is regarded as an important issue within the climate
change adaptation discourse. The environmental-security literature often presents climate change as
an external push factor to which migration is the mechanical response. Speculation about the social
consequences of climate change has relied on ‘worst case’ scenarios. This has involved broad
generalizations about countries and regions where linkages between the physical processes and social
consequences are suggestive rather than elaborated. Instead of relying on the more egregious
estimates and causal chains promoted by scholars (see Doos, 1997 and Myers, 1993 and 2002), the
IPCC has refined the connection between migration and climate changes. We briefly review the new
perspectives and frameworks employed when addressing the social consequences of climate change
and specify what kinds of chronic degradation or sudden onset disasters are likely to cause
migration. We summarize data on the numbers of effected people by disaster and region from 1968-
1Individual migrants, households and communities may experience several forms of migration, sometimes over a short period of time.
Individual migrants may therefore develop complex migration biographies; many are twice, three-times or many times migrants.
Likewise, many households and communities have complex migration histories involving multiple periods and types of migration
(Van Hear, 2000:91).
2007 and assess the estimated risk of future environmental crisis within and across countries by
tabulating future hotspots based on disaster risk, population density and sub national GDP.
We then turn to actual migration patterns, emphasizing that the most adverse effects of
climate change will undoubtedly affect the global south. As lesser developed countries are limited in
their abilities to mitigate environmental hazards, researchers have speculated about the propensity of
people to engage in mass movements. However, we find that international migration is quite limited.
Often researchers emphasize how people in degraded or disaster prone areas incorporate risk into
their livelihoods through individual and community coping mechanisms. Such coping mechanisms
are shaped by economic assets, social position, political relationships, and government policies.
Internal migration is one such coping strategy and is a frequent response to both economic and
environmental hardship. Typical patterns of internal migration and distress migration patterns are
discussed. We summarize the effects of government policies on effected communities.
Increased conflict is frequently presented as an indirect consequence of climate change (see
Homer Dixon 1991, 1994, 1999). Contrary to conjecture from security researchers, we find little
evidence that migration will exacerbate already volatile situations in the developing world. While
resources and resource distribution do heavily influence the risk and patterns of conflict, the direct
and indirect effects of climate change do not appear to. As the people most affected by climate
change are typically the poorest and least powerful within a country, they are less capable of waging
significant conflicts to redress grievances against neighbors or governments.
Finally, we review the main points of this report and recommend new research projects
which can add to our limited knowledge about climate change and migration.
Changes in the Current Discourse
Two major changes have occurred in the discussion over the social consequences of climate change.
The first is a general move away from vague statements and conjecture on ‘environmental refugees’.
The IPCC has altered its initial position on the likely patterns of migration in response to increased
disasters and negative effects of climate change. The second change is recognition that physical
vulnerability to climate change constitutes only one factor in a person’s overall vulnerability to
environmental hazards. Economic, political, and social vulnerabilities, on the individual, community,
and national levels, comprise the overall risk to climate related changes.
Changing Perspectives on Climate Change Induced Migration
The IPCC initially warned: “the gravest effects of climate change may be those on human migration
as millions are displaced by shoreline erosion, coastal flooding and severe drought” (IPCC, 1990:20).
Since 1990, there have been significant changes in the IPCC position as it recognized that a variety
of complex interactions mediate migratory decision-making. Subsequent reports have adopted more
nuanced depictions of migration, primarily by redirecting the focus in terms of “human
vulnerability” (IPCC, 2001a). In fact, reference to human migration as a consequence of climate change
was eliminated from the 2001 Policy Maker’s Summary (IPCC, 2001a). Vulnerable demographics
more broadly, as opposed to migration specifically, are contextualized by various statuses of
economic development, land entitlements, public health challenges and are rightly the new focus
(Lutz, 2004).
The latest 2007 report continues to focus on vulnerability, or adaptive capacities, of
populations to climate change, instead of migration (IPCC 2007). Here, migration is addressed as a
consequence of climate change through two channels: drought and cyclones. Interestingly, in
relation to sea-level rise, migration is not considered a direct consequence, but as a projected cause
of poorer health. Certainly, the causal pathways between climate change and human migration can
be addressed with greater rigor.
Indeed, the markedly lessened language could be due to how the science of climate changes
is not compatible to its presumed social consequences. Problems in equating climate change and
human migration research include scalar mismatches (aggregate relationships are a focus of empirical
migration findings, as opposed to local, small-area climate predictions), temporal mismatches
(migration models tend to be static, whereas climate models tend to be dynamic), and the treatment
of forecasting (probabilistic models are rare in migration research, but common in climatologic
A Changing Framework
How vulnerable communities are to disaster is only partially based on their physical risk. In
considering national and local reactions to climate changes, researchers increasingly rely on a
conceptual framework which emphasizes the differentiated capabilities and vulnerabilities of
countries and groups. Vulnerability is a concept used to determine the relative risk experienced by
individuals, households and communities to adverse changes in their environment. It is a
construction based on the ability to anticipate, cope with, resist and recover from a disaster (Adger,
2000). Vulnerability can be best understood through a scalar approach: it is built on ‘everyday issues’,
such as livelihoods and marginal social status which may contribute to poor land management
practices, resource pressures and increasing reliance on degraded resources. It is compounded by
‘episodic issues’ such as flooding or droughts (Bailey and Bryant, 2003: 30). The distribution of costs
involved in everyday and episodic changes are not random. It is the poor and otherwise marginalized
members of society who are disproportionately affected by all disasters.
The IPCC’s definition of vulnerability is pointedly related to the physical risks communities
experience from environmental hazards. However, geographic literature on natural hazards has
repeatedly stresses the role of human agency either in causing disasters, or in causing populations to
be more vulnerable to disaster (Wijkman and Timberlake, 1984; Hewitt, 1983; McGregor, 1994; and
National Research Council, 2007). Heijmans (2004) finds that disaster response agencies are
increasingly using the concept of vulnerability to analyze processes that lead to disasters and to
identify responses.
Broadly speaking, the hazards literature suggests that vulnerability stems from location and
social disadvantages often manifest in income poverty (Cutter, 1996). This lack of power reduces
access to resources and in turn narrows the range of options available to groups in times of stress
(see Adger, 1999; Adger and Kelly, 1999; and Blaikie et al., 1994). Multiple models of vulnerability
have been advanced recently in disaster literature, yet vulnerability assessments are not associated
with widely accepted indicators or methods of measurements (McLemen and Smit, 2006 and
Downing et al. 1997). Indeed, any measure of vulnerability (or marginal status) cannot be regarded
as static- not all poor are vulnerable, and those that are, are not all vulnerable in the same way
(Bankoff et al., 2004). Yet, scholars are clear that vulnerability is based on economic, social and
physical factors. Locally, economic considerations include assets, type of employment, future
income potential; social aspects shaping vulnerability include type of political institutions,
marginalization, minority status, education, gender, and age. Finally, physical vulnerability considers
the geography of livelihoods and hazards, previous disasters, resource depletion and scarcity, and
established infrastructure (Wisner, 2004).
The main point of this approach is to emphasize that we live in ‘politicized environment’ where the
costs and benefits associated with environmental change are distributed unequally among actors
(Bailey and Byrant, 2003). This is apparent on the international scale, where climate changes
exacerbated by developed countries seriously affect the capabilities of developing countries,
especially those economically dependent on the environment. Developing countries are under
pressure to incorporate adaptive and mitigation policies against climate change. Stained budgets and,
in many cases, resource dependence and unstable political environments increase vulnerability.
Differential vulnerability is most apparent within disaster affected countries, and indeed most of the
work on responses to environmental changes is situated on the sub-national level. Within countries,
researchers emphasize that the effects of chronic and sudden onset environmental disasters are
exacerbated by uneven development and the narrow margin of sustainable livelihoods already
present within least developed states2.
The Impacts and Migration Potential of Select Disasters
The IPCC report (2001b: 13-16) noted that climate change is likely to very likely to cause higher
maximum temperatures, more intense precipitation events, increased risk of drought, increase in
tropical cyclone peak wind intensities, and an increasing number of floods in some areas (see Perch-
Nielsen, 2004). Further, “it is widely accepted that climate change is not only manifested in changes
in long term average conditions, but may include changes in extremes or variability, and will be
experienced via changes in the frequency, severity, timing and spatial extent of climatic conditions
and events such as droughts and floods” (Houghton et al., 2001). In this report, we focus on both
chronic and sudden onset disasters as climate researchers emphasize that an increase in the
frequency and severity of such events is the most likely short to medium-term effect of climate
changes3: “recently, it has become more evident that climate change will not express itself primarily
through slow shifts in average temperature over a long period…there is mounting evidence that it is
2The Maasai of Kenya provide an appropriate example of the interaction between physical and social vulnerabilities. They are
considered marginalized as their access to social services, physical infrastructure, and political representation are routinely well below
national averages in remote and low population density pastoral areas (Coast 2002). If drought should affect large swaths of Maasai
and non-Maasai territory, Maasai would be most vulnerable to severe and crippling economic effects, as their margin for ‘disaster’ is
so narrowly constructed by forces partially beyond their control.
3 In the past decade, weather related natural hazards have been the cause of 90% of natural disasters and 60% of related
deaths. The effects are especially dire in developing countries where environmental hazard victims represented 98% of
all disaster affected populations (IFRC, 2005).
extreme events, such as droughts, floods and heatwaves that we must prepare for,” (Helmer and
Hilhorst, 2006:1 and Van Aalst, 2006).
The physical impacts, time frame, and migration potential of such disasters differ
significantly. We proceed by distinguishing the impacts of the most likely climate related disasters
(drought, floods, waves, extreme temperatures) and the types of migration patterns they may give
rise to over time. A descriptive analysis of Emergency Disaster Data follows.
Droughts and Famines: Drought caused by physical and climates changes is a significant cause of
livelihood insecurity. Declines in the ability of households to be self-sustaining are related to climatic
vagaries, long term declines in production (i.e. degradation), increasing population growth and land
shortages. Yet the exposure and risk of households and communities differ significantly as a
function of marginalization, land tenure arrangements, coping strategies, opportunities and market
infrastructure and availability of government assistance.
Migration patterns due to chronic drought conditions initially follow pre-established labour
migration patterns, and may not differ in intensity from areas with established high rates of
temporary, circular migration (Henry, Boyle, and Lambin, 2003; Findley, 1994 and Perch-Nielsen,
2001). In comparison to other disasters where few victims consider permanently changing location,
the percentage of people considering migration was highest in drought areas (ranging from 10% to
31%) (Burton et al., 1993, and Perch-Nielsen, 2004: 81).
Floods and Slides: Because of their repetitive nature, most types of floods are ‘known risks’ (White,
1945). But flood risk, frequency, and strength are altered due to increased precipitation, melting
snow, deforestation, urbanization, and landslides as a result of climate changes (Perch-Nielsen,
2004:50). People are differently vulnerable in flood plains (i.e. lives versus assets), but the same flood
can have dissimilar effects in different areas, due to variability in power, income and assets primarily.
The root causes of increased flood risk are linked to degradation of flood plain land, but also
unequal patterns of asset ownership and income, rural land tenure systems, population growth in
marginal areas, and governments land access policies (Wisner et al., 2004:216).
Although there are few surveys that analyze the direct impacts of floods on people, floods
are a cause of significant localized temporary out-migration, often to relief sites (El-Hinnawi, 1985;
O’Neill et al., 2001; and Perch-Nielsen, 2004).
Cyclones, Hurricanes and Waves: These related hazards are a cause of significant death and destruction
along multiple coasts. It is uncertain how climate change may affect cyclonic activity; available
estimates point to a 5-10% increase in peak intensities and a 20-30% increase in precipitation rates
(IPCC 2001c and Perch-Nielsen, 2004). The effect of cyclones on migration has not been directly
examined as it not considered a strong or relevant factor in permanent migration. Instead, similar to
floods, cyclonic activity leads to distress migration until such time as population return to rebuild.
Hurricanes and increased wind storms are expected to increase as a direct effect of other, climate
related disasters (especially cyclones). Similar to other sudden-onset disasters, wind storm and
hurricanes are likely to lead to temporary distress migration, after which time people typically return
to the disaster site to rebuild their livelihoods. In a study of migration patterns following the 1972
Nicaraguan earthquake and Guatemala in 1976, researchers found that not only did the majority of
victims return to their homes, but a population retention rate of 90% was found in damaged and
undamaged areas, indicting that the migration rate in disaster effected communities may be similar to
overall migration rates and hence not driven by the natural hazard (Belcher and Bates, 1983 and
Perch-Nielsen, 2004).
Extreme Temperatures: These have not been related to significant death or migration in the past.
Although long term trends will certainly change livelihoods and considerations for agriculture,
especially those dependent on subsistence agriculture.
Sea Level Rise: IPCC projections of future sea level rise range between .09 and .88 meters between
1900 and 2100 (Church et al., 2001; IPCC, 2001b; Perch-Nielsen, 2004). The most likely effects of
SLR which will affect migration include increasing flood frequencies, erosion, inundation and rising
water tables (Perch-Nielsen, 2004:66). The social consequences of sea level rise are frequently
addressed through future predictions. Basic questions have not been yet addressed about how
people react to Sea Level Rise, whether permanent migration is at all feasible, and how adaptations
to SLR lessen migration as a response.
Physical vulnerability to SLR is a function of how rapidly the change in sea level is expected,
the presence of low-lying atolls, the population on the island, and the available mitigation
possibilities. Social vulnerability is shaped by the available economic resources to deal with rising
levels and the political relationships between atoll and neighboring states. Clearly, the regions most
physically and socially vulnerable to SLR include small islands states and atoll countries (Barnett,
2004:90 and Leatherman, 2001). The countries most ‘at risk’ include Kiribati, the Maldives, the
Marshall Islands, Tokelau, and Tuvalu. With the exception of Tokelau (in free association with New
Zealand), all are independent (Barnett and Adger, 2001). ‘Managed retreat’ or the ‘progressive
abandonment of land and structures in highly vulnerable areas and resettlement of inhabitants’ is
frequently mentioned in reference to erosion and SLR. However, to date, no such movements have
been taken. Retreat may be an option for sparely inhabited coasts, but is unlikely in urban areas
(Leatherman, 2001 and Perch-Nielsen, 2004).
Estimating Effected Populations and Migrant Potential
Long term, empirical data on migration patterns in response to environmental hazards does not
exist. However, data on the effects of previous disasters is available. We summarize the Emergency
Events Database (EM-DAT) in Tables 1 and 24. Table 1 presents the mean percentage of a country’s
population effected, killed and made homeless by seven common chronic and sudden disasters. We
tabulate across all countries and events and then sample by income and political instability. Table 2
summarizes the average number and proportion of people affected by disaster and region over time.
As we will emphasize throughout this paper, the proportion of effected and homeless people to
engage in permanent migration is quite low. The maximum numbers of distress migrants (those
needing short term access to food, water, temporary housing) are the numbers presented in the
following tables. The actual number may be quite a bit lower, as responses to disasters differ by
time, location, and social group.
Results of descriptive statistics from Tables 1 and 2 confirm several impressions already
advanced in disaster literature. Specifically, chronic long-term environmental hazards
(drought/famine) are not the most common but do effect the most people, at an average of 10% of
a country’s population (see Chart 1 2). The effect is heightened in low-income states to 13% of a
country’s population. Although unstable states make up about 8% of country years from 1970-2004,
these unstable states account for 13% of drought and famine effected states. The range of drought-
4EM-DAT data does not record the number of migrating victims as a result of disasters, but does provide the number of people
affected, killed or made homeless as a result. Affected people are those requiring immediate assistance during a period of emergency,
i.e. requiring basic survival needs such as food, water, shelter, sanitation and immediate medical assistance and includes the appearance
of a significant number of cases of an infectious disease introduced in a region or a population that is usually free from that disease.
Table 1: Summary of EM-DAT Statistics by Disaster*
Disaster All Countries Low Income Countries Unstable Countries
Population Affected
Unstable: 43
St. Dev. 21
St. Dev. 0.7
St. Dev. 0.02
St. Dev. 22
St. Dev. 0.08
St. Dev. 0.02
St. Dev.18.87
Unstable: 117
St. Dev. 2.5
St. Dev. 0.6
St. Dev. 0.002
St. Dev. 3.39
St. Dev. 0.01
St. Dev. 0.002
St. Dev. 7
Unstable: 117
St. Dev. 3
St. Dev. 0.02
St. Dev. 0.5
St. Dev. 3.64
St. Dev. 0.01
St. Dev. 0.7
St. Dev.4.21
Unstable: 117
St. Dev. 0.14
St. Dev. 0.004
St. Dev. 0.8
St. Dev. 0.17
St. Dev. 0.005
St. Dev. 0.8
St. Dev.0.03
Unstable: 117
St. Dev. 1.21
St. Dev. 0.03
St. Dev. 0.7
St. Dev. 0.5
St. Dev. 0.03
St. Dev. 0.5
St. Dev. 0.00
Wind Storms
Unstable: 117
St. Dev. 7.5
St. Dev. 0.01
St. Dev. 4.48
St. Dev. 10
St. Dev. 0.02
St. Dev. 6.31
St. Dev. 10
* Population Affected: Affected people are those requiring immediate assistance during a period of emergency, i.e. requiring basic survival needs such
as food, water, shelter, sanitation and immediate medical assistance and includes the appearance of a significant number of cases of an infectious disease
introduced in a region or a population that is usually free from that disease
Population Killed: Persons confirmed dead and those presumed dead.
Population Homeless: People needing immediate assistance of shelter.
Low Income Countries: Countries with an annual GDP per capita less than $3000.
Unstable Countries: Countries whose POLITY score assessment has moved more than two places (positive or negative) over the period of one year.
Table 2: Summary of EM-DAT Disaster Statistics by Region**
Sub-Region*** Droughts Extreme
Floods Slides Wave/Surges Wind Storms
Caribbean (283) 268,636(12%) n/a 42,304 (1%) 512 (<1%) n/a 104,241 (5%)
North (612) 30,000 (<1%) 200 (0%) 200,035 (<1%) 1,531 (<1%) n/a 5,000,047(2%)
Central (356) 58933 (2%) 1052 (<1%) 26,198 (<1%) 708 (<1%) 1,720 (<1%) 103,808 (2%)
South (599) 1,905,980(7%) 131927 (<1%) 136,544 (<1%) 7425 (<1%) 931 (<1%) 15,545 (<1%)
East (401) 1,765,088 (14%) n/a 108,167 (2%) 562 (<1%) 27556 (2%) 118,167 (3%)
Middle (88) 374,726 (9%) n/a 25,990 (<1%) 73 (<1%) n/a 9,645 (<1%)
North (145) 1,700,243 (7%) 40 (<1%) 98,628 (<1%) 3323 (<1%) 12 (<1%) 24,402 (<1%)
South (94) 295,531 (15%) 21 (<1%) 24,111(1%) 34 (<1%) n/a 48,314 (4%)
West (200) 967,841 (22%) 333,359 (13%) 52,944 (<1%) 519 (<1%) n/a 4,822 (<1%)
Central (65) n/a 200,008 (1.5%) 33,735 (<1%) 3502 (<1%) n/a 2,505 (<1%)
Eastern (856) 9,934,389 (1%) 3,132 (<1%) 6,413,745 (1%) 1580 (<1%) 9,693 (<1%) 999,417 (<1%)
South East (864) 974,805 (7%) n/a 258,548 (1%) 10490 (<1%) 64,640 (<1%) 369,193 (<1%)
Southern (1,051) 32,600,000 (11%) 5,248 (<1%) 2,461,976 (1%) 58129 (<1%) 294,222 (2%) 423,754 (<1%)
Western (209) 302,900 (6%) 652 (<1%) 57,770 (1%) 240 (<1%) n/a 4,293 (<1%)
East (288) 0 (0%) 14,508 (<1%) 49,474 (<1%) 281 (<1%) n/a 48,356 (1%)
North (103) n/a 37 (<1%) 38 (<1%) n/a n/a
Russian Fed (46) n/a n/a 6,084 (<1%) 1,411 (<1%) n/a 2,610 (<1%)
South (270) 1,023,333 (13%) 1,417 (<1%) 26,601(<1%) 1,262 (<1%) n/a 12,904 (<1%)
West (221) n/a 1,406 (<1%) 5,646 (<1%) 715 (<1%) 13 (<1%) 39,868 (<1%)
Aust/NZ (197) 1,011,429 (6%) 920,161 (5%) 1,556 (<1%) 243 (<1%) n/a 40662 (<1%)
Melanesia (126) 139,149 (8%) n/a 25,830(2%) 2,029 (<1%) 6096 (<1%) 18336 (4%)
Micronesia (18) 56400 (5%) n/a n/a n/a n/a 1334 (1%)
Polynesia (46) n/a n/a 4 (<1%) 178 (<1%) n/a 11213 (15%)
** Each disaster total is the total affected people (including killed and homeless) by disaster. In parentheses is the percent by region and
disaster as proportion of population.
*** These are the EM-DAT designated subregions with the total number of EM-DAT disaster entries in parentheses.
Effected populations are significant, with multiple cases (8) reaching a population effected rate over
90%. This is most clear in East and West Africa, where affected populations reach 14% and 22%
respectively. Southern Asia has many more people effected (over 32 million) at a mean rate of 11%
of the population.
Chart 1: Relative Disaster Frequency
Disaster Frequency
Wind Storm
Extreme Temp
The effects of drought and famines are heightened because of the spatial coverage of these
disasters. Other sudden-onset disasters vary in their effects, although extreme temperatures, slides,
wave/surges are localized events, and therefore effect less than 1% of a country’s mean population
(see Chart 2 and 3). Wind storms typically affect slightly less than 2% of the population. However,
the ranges and standard deviations of the percentages of effected people are very telling: wind
storms can disturb entire countries (over 90% of a countries population was affected in 7 cases) and
floods can effect up to 48% of a country’s population.
As shown in table 2, the mean effect of wind storms on populations is highest in the
Caribbean and Polynesia, although the number of people affected is higher in East Asia, South Asia,
South East Asia, East Africa, and Central America. Again, it is important to emphasize that these
numbers count those ‘effected’, they does not necessarily indicate distress migration rates, especially
if aid is administered in or close to the disaster effected areas. Homelessness as a result of chronic
disasters is considerably smaller percentage, and although does indicate that people may be more
prone to move, past research has emphasized the propensity of people to return to their homes
following a disaster (Gold, 1980; Haque, 1997; Morrow Jones and Morrow Jones, 1991).
Chart 2: Relative Disaster Effect
Affected People
Wind Storm
Extreme Temp
In short, EM-DAT confirms that disasters have various effects both within and across
countries. There is some evidence that vulnerability to the range of disasters presented here may be
due to the income or stability of a country. However, the most compelling results show that
disasters typically affect small portions of populations. Further, those made homeless are a small
portion of those affected.
Chart 3: Number and Percentage of Regional Populations Effected by Drought
Central America
North America
South America
West Asia
South East Asia
East Asia
South Asia
West Africa
East Africa
North Africa
South Africa
Middle Africa
South Europe
Population Affected by Drought Percent of Population Affected by Drought
Hotspots and Predictions
We have presented a framework which emphasizes the physical and socially constructed parameters
of vulnerability to climate change, and have considered those factors in determining future hotspots
for environmental stresses and migration. As previously discussed, there are multiple ways to
construct a vulnerability index and a number of caveats to this assessment are necessary: first, we
assume that the relative spread of disasters across countries will not change substantially and second,
we assume that demographic growth and limited income will constitute equally important risk
The hotspot maps are based on three variables: projected population for 2050, from the (US
Census International Population Database)5, GDP per capita for 2000 (World Bank)6, and the
number of disaster events, relating to droughts, floods, or wind storms (specifically, hurricanes,
typhoons, tropical storms, and typhoons), as coded in the EM-Data from 1968-2007).
Areas were recognized as highly vulnerable if: 1) their projected population was in the upper
30% for all countries (exceeding 18 million in 2050), 2) their present GDP per capita fell in the
bottom 30% for all countries, and 3) the number of disasters experience fell in the top 30% for all
countries (>4 for droughts, >18 events for floods >8 for wind storms). The countries summarized
in Table 3 and maps 1 and 2 are the countries with the highest physical, economic and social
vulnerability to climate change. They are also least likely to mitigate the effects of hazards due to
their developing status. In essence, these countries are the most ‘at need’ if disasters do increase in
frequency and intensity. Low lying island states are not listed in table 3, as their risk is based on
future predictions and not past evidence. Also, the number of people affected by SLR will be
significantly lower than those affected by droughts, floods, and wind storms. Map 1 is a general
depiction of Table 3.
Table 3: Areas Highly Vulnerable to Disasters in Near Future
Droughts Floods Wind Storms
Burkina Faso
Map 2 displays the population changes and clusters in countries at risk for drought. High-density
population clusters will undoubtedly experience a compounded risk in already high risk states.
Although droughts will probably not occur in the areas with the most densely populated areas of
Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Rwanda, Somalia and Tanzania, those areas will experience a strong
effect as droughts can shift labour migration patterns and victims may be in need of significant aid.
Zones of high population and high drought risk could be ‘chronically vulnerable areas’ or CVA’s.
These areas within a country are a particular risk of livelihood failure. Overall, our assessments point
to a need to pre-emptively bolster disaster mitigation strategies in all counties listed in Table 3.
Coping with Increased Environmental Risks
To be vulnerable to climate changes does not make someone a potential ‘climate migrant’. The
evidence connecting climate change to migration is quite limited, both because data are generally
unavailable and the decision to migrate is based on multiple factors. We contend that we can only
base our future predictions of migration on previous research on community responses to natural
hazards. That research has emphasized how people incorporate physical and social vulnerabilities to
hazards into their livelihoods as an initial resilience strategy. People in marginal regions have
developed a great variety of mechanisms to strengthen their ability to cope with both slow climatic
changes and extreme climatic events (Mula, 1999:318; Maxwell, 1996:301; Meze-Hausken, 2000;
Findley, 1994).
Discussions of climate change coping mechanisms are typically located at the household
level and a number of broad conclusions from case study literature are evident (Mcleman and Smit,
2006 and Henry 2006). How a household reacts to environmental hazards depends of the severity of
the change, their particular vulnerabilities, and available assets and strategies (Mortimore, 1989 and
Meke-Hausken, 2000). Resilience strategies are found to be tailored to the gravity of the particular
situation (Watts, 1983); and as most climate changes will be gradual, households can determine how
to slowly reshape their livelihoods (Henry, 2006)7.
Multiple factors unrelated to environmental change influence resilience most directly. The
availability of markets, access to infrastructure, and the promise and delivery of aid influence the
ability of families to prepare for and withstand environmental hazards and changes (Eriksen et al.,
2005). Yet, factors such as war, government controls on movement, and employment opportunities
are beyond the control of families and communities but strongly shape actions and movements in
response to calamities.
We have divided our discussion on the specifics of adaptive responses into two sections. The
first deals with chronic environmental hazards, such as droughts and degraded lands. The second
discusses how communities cope with fast-onset disasters.
Building Resilience to Degradation, Droughts, and Famine
Communities experiencing chronic environmental hazards generally mitigate risk through livelihood
diversification. Rural livelihoods are typically composed of a combination of three strategies: agro
pastoral activities, livelihood diversification and migration (De Haan, Brock and Coulibaly, 2002).
These strategies are well established, and are shaped by access to assets and entitlements. Typical
labour migration is a critical component of rural livelihoods as migrant wages provide investment
capital for rural commodity production, while the experience of migration is a conduit for the flow
of new ideas and social practices into rural areas (Baker and Aina, 1995). Case studies in East, West
and South Africa found approximately that 45% of rural incomes were generated from the non-farm
sector (Reardon, 1997).8
7Coping mechanisms are regarded as separate from adaptive changes to climate induced hazards. For the purposes of this paper,
coping and adaptation are defined as the actions and activities that take place within existing structures, such as production systems;
whereas, adaptation frequently involves changing the framework within which coping takes place (Eriksen et al, 2005:288 and Adger,
8 It varied from 15% to 93% (Francis, 2002).
A severe stress situation, such as drought, brings into stark focus the ways in which a
diversity of income sources and dynamic coping strategies form the basis of rural livelihoods
(Eriksen et al. 2005). During lean times, coping strategies tend to become more specialized and
directed towards surviving droughts and insulating families against ‘distress migration’ (McGregor,
1994 and Eriksen et al.. 2005). Significant variations across communities are apparent, based on local
and national circumstances. Diversification, short term migration, non farm work and social support
networks are shown to be critical dimensions in mitigating environmental risk (Roncoli and Ingram,
2001). Principal, or first order, coping strategies tend to be specialized and of high intensity. Those
with a reliable principal source of income during the drought, exemplified by salary or remittances,
engaged in fewer drought activities on average than households that did not receive a salary or
remittances. In contrast, diversity is a key factor in the viability of secondary, or complementary,
strategies. For example, dispersed grazing, change in planting practices, collecting foods, inter-
household transfers and loans, use of credit, rationing food, sale of assets, commodity trading,
consumption of relief aid, and various migration strategies are components of typical
drought/famine survival strategies (Corbett, 1988). While the additional income from these activities
was significant, it is typically low and unreliable. Vulnerability depends, to a great extent, on the
ability of individuals to specialize successfully. Although, coping strategies tend to contract during
non-drought periods (Eriksen et al, 2005), the maintenance of indigenous coping institutions is
found to be crucial for continued existence in marginal lands (McCabe, 1990).
With regard to SLR, many small island societies are proved to be resilient in the face of past
social and environmental upheaval (Bayliss-Smith et al., 1988). Resilience is based on traditional
knowledge, institutions and technologies, opportunities for migration and remittances, land tenure
regimes, the subsistence economy, and the linkages between state and customary decision making
(Barnett, 2001 and Barnett and Adger, 2001).
Coping with Sudden Onset Disasters
People in areas prone to sudden onset disasters have a range of coping strategies that are largely
based on their available assets and social networks. In wealthier states, insurance against disaster
destruction is common for households in flood plains, fire prone areas, and fault lines. In developing
states, coping mechanisms and social networks are closely tied, indicating that losses due to disaster
will be shared amongst those in a community or group. International migration is an important
household strategy for risk-reduction, as it has been shown that remittances greatly reduce the
vulnerability in recovering from disasters (Suleri and Savage 2007 and Young, 2007).
To summarize, ecological calamities have occurred with sufficient frequency as to influence
how people incorporate such risks into their livelihood (Mcleman and Smit, 2006). The three most
critical strategies when living on degraded land or uncertain ecological climates are diversification of
livelihood, consolidation of savings into incontestable forms and social investment (i.e. migration). If
a crisis should occur, the most commonly observed reactions are liquidation of savings, service
labour and movement (i.e. distress migration) (Shipton, 1990: 363). Coping strategies are
underscored by initial assets and networks. When hazards and climate changes become as severe and
common as to destroy the abilities of households and communities to mediate their situation and
risks, distress migration or massive livelihoods changes are posited to occur.
Direct and Indirect Environmentally Induced Migration
Migration is only one of a variety of survival strategies pursued by families either simultaneously or
consecutively with other coping strategies (McGregor, 1994 and Reardon, 1997). It is difficult to
separate the underlying causes of such migrations as the importance of short term and seasonal
migration in response to economic and environmental hardship is well established (Maliki et al,
1984; Cleveland, 1991; Painter et al., 1994; and De Bruijn and Van Dijk, 2003). Limited evidence
suggests that, in certain circumstances, environmental hazards do alter the migration patterns
typically observed in developing countries. A number of case studies demonstrate that chronic
environmental changes do initially lead to increases in typical labour migration patterns. However,
sudden onset disasters and prolonged chronic hazards lead to ‘distress migration’. Labour and
distress migration both occur, by and large, within countries and are temporary (see Findley, 1994;
McGregor 1994; and de Haan, 2002). We focus on both types of observed patterns to reveal
possible future migratory processes. Table 4 summarizes how migration patterns vary in response to
direct and indirect disasters.
Table 4: Typology of Potential Migrations
Direct Climate
Indirect Climate
Type of
Time Span
Gradual climate
Chronic disasters
such as drought,
Seasonal labour
Gradual climate
Chronic disasters-
Sudden or gradual
climate change
Natural disasters/
severe drought/
Sudden or gradual
climate change
Sea Level Rise
(Partially adapted from Kothari, 2002:20)
Internal Migrations
Most migrants move internally and follow a circular pattern, either into urban or other rural areas.
Seasonal, circular rural out migration is a critical component of rural livelihoods because it increases
the stability in rural areas and it provides agricultural labour opportunities for otherwise unskilled
migrants in wealthier regions. It also allows for return (or reversibility) possibilities, which is a strong
determinant of rural poverty coping mechanisms (Watts, 1983). A focus on economically motivated
migration is important as studies find that labour migrations intensify and slightly change during
droughts or famines (Shipton, 1990:370 and Perch-Nielsen, 2004).
The patterns of migration observed across communities are shaped by the difference in
development and wealth patterns found within states. Whether people migrate to a rural or urban
area is largely dependent on social capital across groups and pre-established links (de Haan, 2004)
and to the infrastructure linking rural areas and urban areas. Rural-rural movements are considered
to be the most common form of migration in the developing world (Bilsborrow, 1991; de Haan,
2002; and Lipton, 1980). These migratory patterns are generally circular, and are especially popular
amongst the poor, but not necessarily the poorest, who may not have resources to instigate
migration (Kuhn, 2000 and Deshingkar, 2006). Yet, urban migration has increased in China, India,
Indonesia and Vietnam as traditional/low yield agriculture has decreased and labour opportunities in
urban areas are a draw. Improvement in transport and communication channels has facilitated large
scale internal movements.
Urban areas within states continue to draw skilled and unskilled migrants due to the
perceived availability of labour opportunities. Urban population rates have dramatically increased in
recent years, and the carrying capacity of developing cities continues to be a serious concern
(UNFPA, 2007). Considerable country and regional differences exist. In-migration is the source of
about 25% of urban growth in sub-Saharan Africa, but in other cases (such as Bangladesh)
urbanization has increased more than 60%, mainly due to rural-urban migration (Chen, Valente and
Zlotnik, 1998; Elahi, 1972; Islam, 1976; and Khan 1982). However, as most rural-urban migration is
of circular character, migrants continue to maintain links with their rural areas of origin and
participate in further development of the home area (Deshingkar, 2006).
Although the majority of developing country migrants choose to move internally, intra-
regional migration is a widespread phenomenon, particularly in specific areas. West Africa, for
example, is marked by a dense network of migration, in accordance with labour opportunities,
environmental concerns, and currency valuations shifts. Migrants are welcomed when demand for
labour exceeds supply, but debates switch to an emphasis on limiting immigration when the
demand-supply balance tilts to the other side (McDonald, 1999). In some situations, the capital skill
and business links refugees have brought with them have been beneficial to hosts (Cuba-US; Tibet-
Nepal). In other contexts, public policies initiated by the host state have stimulated economic
change, such as Cyprus rebuilding in war zones (McGregor, 1994).
The dynamics of community rural migration can change in response to pressures. Rural out
migration intensifies following a major drought or a poor harvest as a way to minimize risk
(Pederson, 1995; Findley, 1994 and Ezra, 2001). The literature points to differences in migrant
composition flows and destinations over time and across countries. For example, during various
Malian drought periods, migrants engaged in urban migration to Sahel cities or internal Malian
destinations. Limited assets and government policies were the determining factors (Findley, 1994).
In a study of Ethiopian patterns, Ezra and Kiros (2001) found that out migration of certain family
members to urban areas was critical to survival, in addition to typical labour migration. But
migration in response to drought was found in only 2% of households in areas of India and
Bangladesh during 1983 and 1994-95. Increased migration was not a response to drought conditions
partially because substantial labour migration has previously taken place (Caldwell et al., 1986 and
Paul, 1995). Most people depend on such remittances from labour migrants or family networks to
continue living in drought effected areas (Caldwell et al., 1986 and Perch-Nielsen, 2004).
Internal migration therefore has multiple benefits. It underlies rural household abilities to cope
and is also a way to relieve pressure and sustain continued existence on marginal land.
Distress Migration
Migration flows as a result of natural disasters are often categorized as ‘distress migrations’ or
‘forced migrations’. Discussions of ‘environmental refugees’ and ‘climate migrants’ typically focus on
distress migration patterns. They are composed of a large number of distressed and impoverished
people seeking aid until which time they may be able to return, if possible. Two characteristics of
disaster induced migration deserve emphasis: first, forced migration as a result of ecological disaster
often results in internal, rather than international, displacement. Second, such migrations cause
temporary displacement, but not permanent, migration. If permanent migration is the result of a
disaster, it is seen as a reflection of the state’s deficient response rather than the natural hazard
impact (Oliver-Smith, 2004; Woods, 2001; Black, 2001 and Castles, 2002).
Mass migrations from areas hardest hit by frequent disasters is, at best, expected to increase,
and at worst, may bring about further instability in both sending and receiving areas (see Homer
Dixon, 1994 and Myers, 1993). But the scant literature on previous natural disaster induced
migration does not support the notion that massive and ceaseless migration flows will follow
disasters. Instead, there is a clear distinction made between where and what is effected, the coping
mechanisms of those who stay in a disaster area, the migration patterns of those induced to flee, and
the return process of forced migrants. Two main conclusions from case studies are that wholesale
community relocation as a reaction to natural disasters is a relatively rare occurrence, especially
within the context of developing nations (Hunter, 2005) and communities choose different strategies
based on their pre-disaster characteristics. Social capital networks, relatives, histories of migration
and trade, shared political alliances, and ethnic identity or origin, all encourage and direct post-
disaster movement (Hitchcox, 1990 and McGregor, 1994).
It is useful to categorize distress migration decisions as being shaped by local and external
institutions (Colson, 2003). Community decisions in a post-disaster environment generally fall into
three categories: 1) they can be locally displaced and rely heavily on social capital, community
networks, and economic resources to structure decisions; 2) they can choose to be processed by
agencies to access aid and relocate to camps for temporary or long term assistance; or 3) they can
consider possible resettlement options. The third aspect is the most underdeveloped and rare as
resettlement typically involves moving people into new places and environments and indicates more
permanent changes in people’s lives (Oliver-Smith, 2004).
Local displacement: Displacement is characterized by movements to the nearest safe location and is the
most common response to immediate threat. The composition of distress migration flows can differ
significantly by country, region, and group and, in some cases, age and gender. Distance to possible
hosting areas is a crucial factor for distress migrants, as people often move close (Perch-Nielsen,
2004: 57-58 and Paul, 2005). The primary reasons for temporary moves include structural damage,
loss of utilities, danger, and need for provisions. Destinations are chosen based on community
relations, individual social capital networks and the availability of emergency provisions. The moves
are frequently temporary until such time as people can return to rebuild their livelihoods (Gold,
1980; Haque, 1997; Morrow-Jones and Morrow-Jones, 1991; Quarantelli, 1982 and Perch-Nielsen,
Social capital networks are critical factors in distress migration. People frequently rely on
relatives and friends for short periods of time before returning to their homes (Belcher and Bates,
1983; Quarantelli, 1982; Perch-Nielsen, 2004; Gold, 1980; Haque, 1987; and Morrow Jones and
Morrow Jones, 1991). Highly connected networks tend to produce post-disaster migration stability
(Hendrix, 1976; Mileti and Passerini, 1996). Migrants use personal networks/social capital to guide
settlement decisions as such communities provide insurance against uncertainties and reinforce links
with sending areas (Colson, 2003).
Yet, there are differences in the composition of distress migrant groups over time. For
example, the absolute number of migrants did not rise during the Malian droughts of 1983-1985, but
the compositions of flows were markedly different. Women and children temporarily migrated to
nearby destinations in order to reduce food consumption (Findley, 1994). Famine relief literature
generally concludes that those without dependents leave first, followed by older men, and then
families (Shipton, 1990:370; Meke Hausen, 2000; and Findley, 1994). Those most likely to resist
relocation tend to have the strongest attachments to the community’s cultural roots (Kirshenbaum,
Most of the data on post-disaster displacement is from Bangladesh, where frequent disasters
allow researchers to study the community patterns (Perch-Nielsen, 2004). Zaman and Weist (1991)
found that local displacement is common in disaster prone areas of Bangladesh; people moved on
average 2 miles from their previous residence, as there was a persistent belief that it was critical to
stay close to family and that land will be reclaimed (see also Hutton and Haque, 2004). Multiple
displacements are common characteristics of Bangladeshi charland settlements9. Although most
return to re-establish their livelihood when new land subsequently re-emerges10, a considerable
proportion of displaces (between 10 and 25%), move to urban centres and become permanent
squatter settlers. Those urban migrants cited economic factors, including landlessness, poverty and
unemployment, and natural hazards as the major causes of the rural push (Islam, 1996).
The available evidence suggests that distress migrants return to their home areas at a
remarkably high rate (Surhke, 1993). In a study of migration patterns following the 1972 Nicaraguan
earthquake and Guatemala in 1976, researchers found a 90% population retention rate in damaged
and undamaged areas, indicting that the permanent migration rate in disaster effected communities
may be similar to overall migration rates and hence not driven by the natural hazard (Belcher and
Bates, 1983 and Perch-Nielsen, 2004). Studies of post-disaster migrants and non-migrants in
Guatemala and the Dominican Republic found that people’s intention of staying in their villages was
not related to the damage they experienced, but rather the type of work they were previously
involved in. Specifically, those working in coffee plantations decided to move as their economic
future looked bleak. Further, people who had invested more in their home area were less likely to
move (Belcher and Bates, 1983, Quarantelli, 1982, Morrow-Jones and Morrow Jones, 1991 and
Perch-Nielsen, 2004).
Seeking Aid: Case study literature notes that the number of people seeking relief aid varies depending
on geography, infrastructure, instability, pre-disaster assets, and past experiences with aid
distribution. Humanitarian aid is available only in certain areas which pushes people to migrate
(McGregor, 1994; Erza, 2001; and Erza and Kiros, 2001).
9 In 1995, the Flood Plan Coordination Organization (1995) estimated that 728,000 people between 1981 and 1993 were displaced.
Over 40% of the displaced squatters had been uprooted three or four times and 36% percent had been displaced between 5 and 10
times. Another 14% had been displaced more than 10 times (Hutton and Haque, 2004).
The geography of relief is a critical factor: in very severe emergencies, families may seek
relief in camps, although the destinations are often quite vague. Urban areas can also be popular
destinations for forced migrants. Research on Kenyan and Somali reactions to climate hazards and
drought conditions notes a swelling of population around market towns, due to both a growing
dependence on aid and markets for a sustainable lifestyle (Little et al., 2001). Regional urban pushes
have been found in similar contexts: “migrants who can do so commonly head for towns and cities
and famines swell peril-urban shantytowns with new arrivals......Those who are far from towns and
lead agrarian lifestyles may suffer more from famines” (Shipton, 1990: 353).
There are multiple cases where people did take preventive actions or seek shelter in safe
places. A study of communities affected by the 1988 Bangladesh flood describes how some families
stayed and others sought relief was based on family risk assessments: 1) the risk of having possession
stolen or squatters in homes; 2) reduced privacy in camps; 3) food insecurity; 4) dirty water; 5) crime;
6) disease (Shaw, 1992 and Thomalla and Schmuck, 2004). In response, in situ aid is becoming more
common in badly affected areas, especially where residents contend that aid distribution is
politicized. Paul (1998, 2003) found that in situations where disaster aid ran smoothly and without
irregularities, people did not move from affected areas (similar to US schemes to prevent mass out-
migration in post disaster environments). Several studies recently conducted show relief has
increasingly become more equitable and free of irregularities (Paul, 1998 and Ibrahim, 2003).
Effective aid and reconstruction can stimulate local markets and employment opportunities
in effected villages and relief camps, preventing economic out migration. The UNHCR has
incorporated such local contexts into some relief planning. Instead of large camps, assistance can be
provided to a dispersed population, creating less concentrated environmental impacts and
opportunities for locals and refugees (Black and Sessay, 1998: 704-707). But, the right of refugees to
settle on common property varies across countries, and is generally subject to a host of local
governing regulations and negotiations. Furthermore, refugees have differential access to public
resources depending on the institutional dynamics regulating their stay.
Permanent Relocation and Resettlement: Permanent resettlement of high risk populations in disaster zones
has been a policy challenge for governments and development agencies. It is now considered as
possible strategy to address environmental problems, particularly SLR in low lying or overpopulated
island states. For the most part, government induced resettlement has a very poor reputation as a
response to development, conflict or environmental problems. This is mainly due to inadequate
planning and facilities, the politicized nature of the resettlement process, and the general inability of
governments to address post-resettlement issues. In cases of both voluntary and involuntary
movement, governments face the same three issues: people are hesitant to move, there are
considerable settlement and development issues in new locations and people often attempt to return
to their home area.
Resettlement programs often have unintended costs to migrants. Negative changes in
income, living conditions, social networks and future prospects are often cited consequences
(Afolayan, 1987; Chan, 1995; Cernea, 1997; Heming et al., 2001; and Wisner et al., 2004). Ethiopia’s
attempt to resettle famine affected populations in the 1980s is considered a state-created disaster,
possibly increasing the number of deaths during the famines of the 1980s (Clapham, 1988 and van
Leeuwen, 2001). In other cases, increased impoverishment is a consequence; of the few Bangladeshi
displaces reported to have receive resettlement assistance from either a government or non-
government agency (approximately 7%), those who moved into urban areas were at a disadvantage
in labour markets11. Approximately 45% of non-displacees were satisfied with their living conditions,
compared to 29% of urban displaces (Hutton and Haque, 2004). Again, rural-urban kinship ties are
found to be extremely integral to the urban migration experience, helping displacees cope and adapt
to new circumstances (Zaman 1988). While natural hazards may result in loss of livelihood, it does
not necessarily correspond to the loss of community and social support.
Yet, one of the major issues surrounding relocation is that many of the resettled attempt to
return to their original settlements (Chan, 1995). Chinese authorities found that a reverse flow of
flood migrants has taken place in almost every case of resettlement because of inadequate receiving
area conditions and lack of compensation for assets lost (Hemin, Waley, and Rees, 2001:199-200).
Although the entire population of Tristan de Cunha was relocated to Britain in 1961 following an
eruption, most had returned to the disaster area after two years (Smith, 1992 in Chan, 1995).
There have been a number of successful resettlement projects in Bangladesh, China, Nepal
and Vietnam (Zaman, 1996 and Badri et al., 2006). A ‘best practices’ plan developed from these
experiences emphasizes that 1) careful attention be paid to social, economic and health issues
(through an initial survey); 2) stakeholders should engage in ‘meaningful participatory’ decisions
about relocation; 3) an appropriate compensation strategy be devised for all effected populations; 4)
such a compensation package should be flexible (offering cash, grants, land, or employment) and
should explicitly recognize all losses; 5) special attention should be paid to the highly vulnerable
(elderly, single mothers etc); 6) a strong organization should oversee the process to monitor and
evaluate activities; and 7) a practical time frame should be established for the process (Cernea, 1997;
Burbridge, Norgaard and Hartshorn, 1988; Fernades, 1995 in Badri et al., 2006).
A special case is the effect of SLR and erosion on migrant potential. Indeed, previous
evidence of river bank erosion in Bangladesh did lead to sizable migrations (Zaman, 1989 and
Mahmood, 1995). Future projections of SLR call for a consideration of resettlement as an adaptive
strategy to climate change, particularly in very high risk countries such as pacific islands and low
lying atolls (Barnett, 2001). The limited research that has been undertaken on this issue finds that
past SLR has not lead to displaced coastal populations; instead people coped through a variety of
different adaptations (Black, 2001 and Perch-Nielsen, 2004). Considerable resilience to short term
hazards has been documented in the Pacific Islands (Campbell, 1990; Firth, 1959; Lessa, 1964;
Marshall, 1979; and Rappaport, 1963). ‘Sufficient evidence exists to show that people have
maintained habitation of the Pacific islands during periods of substantial exogenous and human
induced environmental changes, although adaptation was at times traumatic,” (Barnett, 2001:986).
This is possibly due to cross-island community efforts-- in times of need, such as after a cyclone,
communities would assist each other through the redistribution of food or allow for the dispersal of
people to other islands. More recently, smaller scale migrations within home islands were observed
in Samoa and Tokelau during Cyclone Ofa (Campbell, 1998; Hooper, 1990). This requires good
social relations with ‘neighbors’ and increased cooperation at the regional level (Torry, 1979 and
Nicholls and Mimura, 1998). There is some concern that those island linkages that did exist have
been weakened and replaced by connections with more distant countries as remittances now
constitute a large proportion of post-disaster assistance (Campbell, 1998 in Barnett, 2001:987). As
populations on each island decrease due to labour outmigration, the pre-disaster resilience of those
remaining is also strengthened by remittances.
In short, although resettlement may be successful in reducing the physical vulnerability of
people to disaster risk, it is often coupled with a decrease in development and living standards,
thereby possibly increasing the economic and social vulnerability of resettled populations. This is
mainly due to issues surrounding employment, land acquisitions and water resources, unequal access
to resources and opportunities faced by migrants, a decrease in social networks and capital (Badri et
al., 2006). Further, governments often face the issue of forced migrants attempting to return to their
home. High risk areas, such as Pacific Islands, face an uncertain future with regard to SLR and
erosion. A number of islands have established a disaster exit option through dependency and
migration agreements with neighbouring or other countries. There is also evidence to suggest
sharing environmentally induced burdens for people in a post-disaster scenario may lessen the
impetus to migrate due to SLR and erosion.
To summarize, the distressed condition denotes a sharp impact, great vulnerability and
needed assistance to avoid further suffering and conflict (Surhke, 1992). The characteristics of
distress migration are quite different within and across countries as they are shaped by the severity of
a crisis, the ability of a household to respond, the geography of the crisis, evacuation opportunities,
existing and perpetuating vulnerabilities, available relief, and intervening government policies. It
appears that household and community responses to disasters are primarily shaped by compensation
opportunities, income restoration possibilities and community support over relocation and
resettlement possibilities (Turton, 2003). Temporary, local relocation is common (approximately
30% of effected population) in part because of social networks (Belcher and Bates, 1983,
Quatantelli, 1982 and Perch-Nielsen, 2004). After a brief period, displacees and forced migrants
return to their home area at a remarkably high rate (Surhke, 1994, Berry and Downing, 1993, Belcher
and Bates, 1983 and Perch-Nielsen, 2004).
Displacees experience sub national socio-economic impoverishment and marginalization as
a consequence of involuntary migration. This is in part a socially constructed process, reflecting
inequitable access to land and other resources (Hutton and Haque, 2004). The majority of urban
displacees endure accumulative and increasing impoverishment, and limited opportunities to relieve
debt and attain savings which might ease the hardships associated with displacement (Greenberg and
Schneider, 1996; Haque, 1997). In extreme severe cases, large scale distress migration can be
accompanied by ‘abject misery, large scale beggary and greatly increased mortality” (Adhana,
1991:187 as quoted in Perch-Nielsen, 2004).
The Effects of Government Policies on Environmental Migrants
Although cross-national evidence is limited, governments have pursued a number of different
policies in response to chronic and sudden onset disasters. The most successful policies involve
lessening vulnerability, increasing resilience and coping mechanisms, and improving emergency aid.
Below we review and critique various strategies developing governments have pursued to address
environmental hazard risk.
Government Policies Which Influence Vulnerability and Coping
Political, economic, social, environmental and household factors affect vulnerability and resilience to
environmental hazards. It therefore follows that policies which influence vulnerabilities will affect
the production of migrants (and origin and destination communities), who might be negatively
impacted by climate change (Hunter 2005 and Wallerstein 1997). Table 4 reviews the strategies
government can and has employed to increase community resilience, reduce actual vulnerability in
high risk environments, and encourage long term adaptation to increased and intensified
environmental hazards. For example, micro-credit lending for sustainable (environmentally-
conscious) development and improvement of livelihoods, encouraging food security in poorer
countries with semi-arid climates (Petty and Savage 2007), improved planning of coastal
communities (Chanda and Coetzee, 2002), fair trade programs, cash-based targeting, particularly
education programs (as in Mexico) (Coady et al., 2004) are not “climate change programs” per say,
but they act to reduce the negative impacts of migrations that are directly or indirectly the result of
climate change.
Of those strategies designed to increase resilience, land use and development regulations
drastically impact the ability of people to engage in viable livelihoods, as is evidenced by accounts of
communal versus public lands in East Africa, pastoral common areas in the Sahel zone, dam
projects in China, and flood plain arrangements in Bangladesh and India. Polices designed to reduce
hazard vulnerability, such as early warning systems, the replacement of lost income and preservation
of productive assets have confirmed positive results (see Cutler, 1993). In a marked contrast to the
norm and as example of true adaptation, the Botswana Drought Relief Program (1982-1985) was
directed towards the replacement of lost income and the preservation of productive assets.
Botswana’s program was successful in preventing famine deaths by recognizing the county’s
vulnerability to drought, creating an effective early warning system and a national drought
prevention strategy, with infrastructure and competent civil services to ensure a prompt release of
resources (Hay, 1988). Botswanan programs confirm that sustainable, local development goals are
consistent with mitigating disaster-driven migrations (IPCC 2007; Young 2007).
Most strategies designed to reduce hazard vulnerability and/or adapt to climate changes are
in early stages of development. However, successful programs such as early warning systems are
becoming more widespread. Strategies such as crop insurance and cash based aid to disaster victims
are not widespread. Long term adaptation demands improved planning and regulation in hazard
zones, possible population movements and the construction of protective infrastructure (Wisner et
al., 2004).
Table 5: Government Policies Influencing Vulnerability and Resilience
Government Policies on Coping Mechanisms
Goals Strategies Examples
Encourage Rural Development
Improvement of livelihoods
Encourage food security
Build Infrastructure
Relief centers
Watershed management
Land Use and development
Communal versus Private Land
Land reform
Grameen bank loans
Fair Trade programs
World Food Program Initiates
United Nations
Water and sanitation program (e.g. bore
Tanzania versus Kenya Public Lands
Early Warning Systems
Replace lost income
Preservation of productive assets
Crop insurance systems
Strict regulation in hazard zones
Secure squatter settlements in
urban areas
e.g. Famine Early Warning System
USAID (Somalia)
Botswana Drought Relief Program
Multiple cases
See Wisner et al., 2004
Adaptation12 Sea walls (SLR)
Population movement (SLR)
Neighboring relocation
agreements (SLR)
Improved planning for coastal
communities (SLR)
Proposed in Maldives
e.g. New Zealand/US
See Wisner et al., 2004
12 Many ‘adaptation’ policies are possible future strategies to address sea level rise (SLR).
Government Policies Influencing Labour and Distress Migration Patterns
Environmental hazards may lead to various types of intra-state population movements. Table 6
summarizes the strategies and policies designed to hinder or encourage migrations specifically. The
policies regarding distress migration are somewhat ad-hoc in developing states, and are perhaps
related to the availability of outside aid. Therefore, many of the policies outlined below are
suggestive, based on information from case studies.
As discussed above, labour migration is an important component of rural livelihoods.
Therefore, the treatment of migration as the focus for climate related policy is potentially
problematic. Governments affect mobility through regulations on migrants in urban and
international destinations. Rural migrants are often invisible to administrations, and policies rarely
address circular migration from rural areas to other agricultural areas (De Bruijn and Van Dijk,
2003). However, there exist a number of discriminatory policies designed to prevent rural to urban
migration, many of which restrict rights and benefits to urban migrants. In many Asian countries,
governments attempt to control rural-urban migration through a combination of rural employment
creation programmes, anti-slum drives, and restricted entry to urban areas (Deshingkar, 2006). Other
policies limit the ability of migrants to settle or receive social benefits: China’s Hukou system will
not permit a rural resident to claim state benefits in the urban areas and Vietnam’s KT system
classifies residents in urban or rural areas. Only those who reside in their original registration areas
are entitled to full government benefits. India does not attempt to place direct controls on
population movements, but has a range of policies that indirectly work against poor migrants.
Indonesia redirects population from rural areas to areas with labour shortages, due to concerns
about over population in urban areas (Deshingkar, 2006).
Government policies on distress migrations have a significant effect on the form of forced
migration and the relief opportunities available to refuge seekers. Evidence suggests that the ways in
which governments respond to disasters is largely predicated on the kind of political relationships
that existed between sectors before the crisis (Pelling and Dill, 2006). Multiple case studies support
these assertions, specifically in reference to famines, disaster relief and post-disaster assistance.
Table 6: Government Policies on Labour and Distress Migration
Government Policies on Labour and Distress Migration
Goals Strategies Examples
Strengthen rural-urban
Encourage rural investment
via remittances
Encourage circular,
temporary migration
Widespread practice
See de Haan, 2002
Reduce controls on
Restrictive movement
e.g. China’s Hukou Systems, Vietnam’s
KT System, India’s ‘People Below the
Poverty Line (BPL)’ system
Increase urban
Increase opportunities in
national and regional Cities
See UNFPR, 2007
Treat disaster victims
Redesign relief infrastructure
Compensation opportunities
Community Support (over
Encourage state involvement
in relief
De-politicize aid
e.g. UN, WFP
e.g. Botswana famine relief program
See Paul, 2005
Safer relief camps Reduce restrictions on
Reliable, safe relief
Multiple organizations
Relocation and
resettlement assistance
Forced relocation
Government villagization
Temporary relocation and
local work
Ethiopian Famine Relief Organization
e.g. Ethiopia, Rwanda, Mozambique,
In areas where the state is a benign or beneficial institution and where international agency relief is
unhindered, disaster-effected communities return to stability relatively quickly, as demonstrated by
reports on Bangladeshi and Pakistani effected communities (Paul, 2005). However, the state may be
absent from relief efforts if the effects of the disaster is very localized. The ad-hoc nature of relief
and government aid can force those suffering from disasters to rely on social networks during
recovery. For example, drought migrants in the Bandiagara plateau in Sahel are extremely
marginalized, dispersed and mobile, operating without significant government assistance (De Bruijn
and Van Dijk, 2003).
In other cases, government restrictions on travel in and out of disaster zones can undermine
local recovery strategies (McGregor, 1994). During the drought and famine occurring in Dar Masalit
in Sudan, assistance policies prevented Chadian refugees from leaving relief camps, and attempted to
maintain them in an ecologically fragile area, creating an especially prolonged famine (de Waal,
1997). Many discussions of cyclone shelters in Bangladesh (Bern et al, 1993 and Haque, 1991) find
that overcrowded shelters and corruption often prevented effective disaster relief (Paul, 2005).
In a comparison of famine impacts in Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, and
Sudan during the early to mid 1980s, migration patterns, economic impacts and government
responses differed significantly due to pre-disaster contexts, internal responses and international
relationships. Migration in Sudan and Ethiopia was quite substantial and directed towards relief
camps in eastern Sudan. Return was not an option until the end of severe and long term internal
conflicts. In Mali, migration rates varied, but north-south movements to relief camps is believed to
have eventually totaled 30% (Berry and Downing, 1993). Migration was not a strong response in
either Botswana or Kenya, as Botswana relief program was effective and efficient, while Kenya’s
relief program was directed towards large and politically significant groups. Within countries, specific
government policies in famine areas can result in drastically different outcomes.
The variation in each country’s economic and political health profoundly influenced their
famine responses. Pre-famine trading relationships in Kenya and Botswana provided insurance
against economic failure, while international relief flowed to responsive governments. The
infrastructure and type of relief strongly affected migration and mortality rates. While in Botswana, a
decentralized program focused on household entitlements and a labour program, Kenya depended
primarily on normal market channels to distribute relief. The remaining states constructed an
extensive relief complex and relied on free food distribution. The political response to each famine
was contingent upon each government’s willingness to avoid crisis, tailor relief efforts based on
need, and appeal for aid. However, as Cutler (1993) persuasively argues, relief efforts are based on
the strategic importance of the population at risk. As remote, rural people hardly constitute a threat
to the established order, their struggles, climatic or otherwise, were ignored by regimes. If famines
threaten towns or cities, action is often swift as urban unrest is a significant worry to regimes.
Famine aid is therefore allocated by ‘political weight’, with urban areas first, followed by politically
important rural areas and other rural areas last. The lack of research on current government
responses to famine limit our ability to discuss whether these policies have continued.
In conclusion, although it is difficult to properly vague the impact of government policies on
environmentally induced migration, it seems clear development policies, independent from climate
change policy, strongly shape the risks of communities in disaster prone regions. Governments can
bolster a community’s immunity to disaster by encouraging local and urban development, thereby
lessening the social and economic vulnerability to hazards. A wide range of other polices designed to
reduce physical risks and increase adaptation are not widespread.
We will now address another component of the ‘environmental refugee’ discussion – that of
migration and conflict. That environmental migration will lead to violent conflict is a frequent
conjecture in the environment-security literature. We survey the available evidence and role that
migration has previously played in civil wars.
Migration and Conflict
Much of the available literature exaggerates the impact of environmental factors in causing or
exacerbating conflict (see Levy, 1995 and Gleditsch, 1998 and Barnett, 2000 for critiques). The most
prominent studies of environmental conflict suffer from over prediction, a lack of evidence, and a
reliance on conjecture (Gleditsch, 1998). Although migrants are frequently cited as catalysts,
instigators or victims of conflict, case study literature is inconclusive regarding the propensity of
migrants to exacerbate tensions and conflict. It is clear that, in general, migration does not lead to
conflict, but a comprehensive study of distress migration and conflict has not been done.
The case study literature notes that climate related migration has a myriad of consequences,
which ‘may involve violence, or less sensationally but no less importantly, more structural forms of
disadvantage” (Barnett, 2001: 282). Yet migrants continue to occupy a place of prominence in causal
chains linking physical changes to political outcomes. This is due to environmental-security
researchers misunderstanding both typical migration patterns in the developing world and the
conditions that create conflict. Environmental issues and migration can be critical contextual factors
in some conflicts, as are a host of issues relating to resource use, demographic characteristics, and
spatial differentiated patterns of governance.
Linking Migrations to Conflict
Migration is generally considered to be the intermediate stage which links environmental degradation
and disasters to conflict (Homer Dixon, 1991 and 1994). As mass relocations are presumed to occur
in response to degradation, conflict may erupt in receiving areas in response to competition, as
environmental migrants may burden the economic and resource base of the receiving area and
promoting contests over resources; ethnic tension, which may occur if migrants are from a different
ethnic group; distrust between sending and receiving areas if the origin site perceives maltreatment of
migrants; ‘fault lines’ which are pre-existing tensions following socioeconomic issues; or finally,
‘auxiliary conditions’ as developing economies are reliant on the environment for survival and if
resources are scarce, environmental migrants may possibly join antagonizing groups or intensity the
violence through any of the above conditions (Reuveny, 2000: 657-659).
The issue with such proposed causal claims is that there are few, if any, references to actual
migration processes. The suppositions and conjectures mask poorly designed models of causation
without reference to the mechanisms, opportunities, underlying motivations, past histories, role in
international assistance and government policies on migrants. The tensions assumed to arise in
receiving areas have occurred in a minority of cases13. As we have argued in this paper, the available
evidence suggests that, in most cases, migrants move locally and rely on social networks or are
directed towards relief centers during a crisis. Forced migration of this kind is often temporary,
lessening the burden on hosting areas. In crises that do not involve a civil war on either sending or
hosting areas, relief responsibilities for large disasters are shared by international and national
Distress migration will be very unlikely to lead to conflict under any of the specifications
indicated for two main reasons: 1) distressed populations are extremely marginalized and weak
compared to non-migrants in host areas (Pelling and Dill, 2006; McGregor, 2002; Eriksen et al.,
2005); and 2) distress migrants attempt to merge with ethnic groups within host areas, either through
relying on social capital or relief efforts to merge populations (Black and Sessay, 1998 Guilmoto,
1998 and Guiffrida, 2007). Anthropologists have found that new migrants across borders, or into
refugee camps, tend to “employ a myriad of strategies which include the redefinition of kinship and
social obligations” (Guiffrida, 2007 and Harrel-Bond and Voutira, 1992). Attempts to bridge ethnic
gaps are clearly a priority to migrants, who most likely will not engage in conflict far from a solid
support base. Further, the destitute arriving due to distress migration are attended to with relief aid,
and likely to be temporary residents in a potentially hostile area.
13 There is some evidence that interstate conflict refugees do increase the risk of conflict (see Lischer).
Yet, particular demographic pressures are found to exacerbate tensions within developing
states (see Goldstone, 2002; Urdal, 2005; Hegre and Raleigh, 2008). Rapid growth in the labour force
in slow growing economies, a rapid increase in educated youth aspiring to elite positions when such
positions are scarce, unequal population growth rates between different ethnic groups, urbanization
that exceeds employment growth and migrations that change the balance between and among major
ethnic groups, all appear to increase the risks of violent internal political and ethnic conflicts. The
crucial element here is not migration per se, but changing demographics. Migrants, in general, will
add to population pressures in urbanized areas, and could be considered a relatively inexpensive
fighting force. Such conflicts are not driven by migrant issues, but can perhaps be supplied by
migrant labour.
That ‘ethnic competition’ is a cause of migrant-host conflict is a key component of the
migrant-security nexus. When one distinct ethnic group migrates into an area and challenges the
dominance of the settled population, then conflict may arise. If conflicts escalate into contests for
political power, ethnic war and even genocide can be the result (Goldstone, 2002). There has been
very little research into the ethnic competition dynamic between situated and newly arrived migrants.
There are prominent examples of such conflicts including the movement of Han Chinese into the
Uigher areas of Xinjiang and into Tibet; the Bantu migrations into southern Africa which led to wars
throughout the continent; and forced movements of people within the Soviet Union has led to a
legacy of ethnic and separatist conflicts. In none of these cases has migration been caused by
environmental factors. Instead, a political agenda to nationalize identities or weaken potential
opposition movement shaped the migrations.
There is a growing concern that armed confrontations are becoming more common in
confrontations over pastoral/public land access. Conflict over ‘exclusion’ to public lands concern
vacillating definitions of who belongs to groups, and which groups are awarded particular rights.
Although groups typically co-operate over issues of common interests, a rise in armed conflict over
degraded and depleted public resources is correlated with a decrease in viable state-based solutions
and traditional, local modes of establishing resource use rights (Unruh, 2005).
In summary, the social consequences of environmental pressures are highly variable. The
findings of numerous case studies note that the most common social consequences of
environmental change are continued and exacerbated ‘structural forms of disadvantage’ (Barnett,
2000). The actual consequences of forced migration include oppression, chronic poverty, and
marginalization (Barnett, 2000; Surhke, 1994 and Pelling and Dill, 2006). Degradation and migration
often bring misery, yet such misery does not generally trigger the elite alienation and opposition to
the government necessary for large scale violence to occur (Goldstone, 2002). Whether a given
population ends up as destitute refugees or can transform themselves into successful migrants
appears to depend on conditions of social peace and the resources available. “Environmental
degradation, insofar as it causes displacement of people, is more likely to generate exploitation rather
than acute conflict. Those who are victimized by environmental change are also weak and
numerically few. Aid for these populations must be seen as a humanitarian obligation rather than a
security obligation” (Surhke, 1994:15).
Conclusions and Future Research
This paper has provided an overview of climate change related migration. It has heavily focused on
developing countries, as these states will undoubtedly experience the most adverse consequences. It
has based the general findings and predictions for future environmentally induced migration on
previous studies of societal reactions and adaptation to natural disasters. This is done both the
counter the conjecture that has dominated the discourse and to provide a more reasonable and
evidence based approach to environmentally induced migration.
To summarize previous case studies in chronic and sudden onset disaster areas, a short to
medium term increase and intensification of typical labour migration should be expected out of
degraded and drought/famine areas, while initial local displacement will characterize movements
from sudden onset disaster areas. A small share of migrants may choose to permanently relocate
(case studies have noted a range from none to 30%). No mass migrations should or are expected to
occur (Perch-Nielsen, 2004:95). These findings deviate substantially from more egregious estimates
from the ‘environmental refugee’ literature, mainly because such discussions fail to take into account
human reaction and adaptation to change (Black, 2001).
The available literature and this paper have stressed the role of pre-disaster coping and
resilience strategies designed to address household and community vulnerability and risk to
environmental hazards. Vulnerability is based on physical risk, political, economic and social
characteristics, and individual factors, such as gender and age. Government strategies designed to
address vulnerability and increase resilience can provide the basis for successful adaptation to
climate change. There is a clear need for governments to consider strategies for reducing hazard risk
and increasing mitigation and adaptation to future climate changes.
It is apparent from this study that more widespread and rigorous research is needed in this
field. In general, better data is required on internal migrations and displacement. These data can be
used to determine how disasters vary in their effects based on differential development and they
would allow for an assessment of local resilience and adaptation programs. We believe that local,
contextual information is better than country level data as vulnerability differs significantly across
disaster affected communities.
Our recommended research agenda is shaped by the three types of migration experienced
and expected in response to environmental changes: labour, distress and relocation. The agenda set
forth below encompasses both policy and academic research, and emphasizes a practical engagement
between the two.
Labour migration
Migration scholars are in agreement on the fundamental importance of labour migration, both to
encourage development and as a critical component to coping with environmental change in rural
areas. Available evidence suggests that labour migration can form the basis of a sustainable
livelihood in chronically degraded land, building resilience across households and communities,
Indeed, families without labour migrants may suffer more during chronic or sudden onset disasters
(Erza, 2001). In that sense, it can be viewed as a positive adaptation strategy.
However, both internal and international migration is an initial economic strain on rural
families, and the process of remittance transfer can be made more secure and simple. From a policy
standpoint, making credit available to fund the up-front costs of migration could facilitate temporary
rural-rural and rural-urban movement. The success of this policy is somewhat contingent upon the
feasibility of remittance transfer. Both DFID and the UN Millennium Foundation have increasing
focused on remittances transfers, although primarily concerning international remittances. As most
migration in developing countries is internal and circular, the most pressing issues may be how to
make migration benefits portable, and ease the process of both rural-rural and rural-urban migrants.
This would require lessening stringent labour migration laws within countries, and assuring the
safety and health of migrants in urban areas. Urban migrants face a host of serious problems,
including questionable labour practices, insufficient payment, dangerous living conditions, and
dealing with shanty settlements and harassment (Deskingkar, 2006; Surhke, 1993 and de Haan,
In numerous case studies researchers alluded to a ‘migration threshold’. Such a threshold
could inform research about the ability to sustain livelihoods in chronically vulnerable areas where
coping mechanisms are stretched. In those areas, social and economic vulnerability may be so high
as to outweigh physical vulnerability. More research should be undertaken in areas where the margin
for disaster is exceedingly narrow.
Distress migration
Distress migration, on the other hand, is a situation characterized by high vulnerability and
immediate needed assistance. Distress migrants are disempowered and generally in a poor position
to negotiate the terms of their displacement. In response, policy frameworks should be geared
towards preventing distress migration whenever possible, or, if inevitable, making relief
opportunities safe and close to the distressed location. Lessening the need for distress migration is
tied to decreasing pre-disaster vulnerability through building assets, ensuring proper health
infrastructure is constructed, negotiating local terms of land tenure and use during dire situations
(i.e. food shortages), and insuring crops. During disaster situations, replacing lost income and
reinvesting in local trade and rebuilding can prevent out migration in search of provisions and
shelter. Rebuilding can also offer employment opportunities for those whose primary source of
income has been destroyed. Directly replacing lost income can prevent an onslaught of highly
vulnerable migrants in urban areas. Such migrants may fall prey to a number of dangers; the possible
weakening of social ties may make distress migrants more prone to exploitation and further
impoverishment (Surhke, 1993). The safe return of these migrants and a restoration of local services
should be a primary concern.
Disaster situations within already unstable areas can lead to ‘complex emergencies’. These
are characterized by the breakdown or "failure" of state structures, intercommunal violence,
disputed legitimacy of authority, the potential for assistance to be misused, abuse of human rights,
and the deliberate targeting of civilian populations by violent forces. Research into the dynamics of
complex emergencies is woefully underdeveloped but sorely needed. A way forward may be to
observe the propensity for violence and rebellion in chronically vulnerable areas, while isolating
underlying causes and trigger mechanisms.
There is also a need to further develop approaches for the managed relocation of populations whose
livelihoods and settlements may not be secure. In the near future, the number of people needing to
be relocated will be quite minimal. However, a best practices strategy should be designed to deal
with the most difficult future situations- that of small island states and urban coastal areas. To
prevent significant outmigration, present strategies could include protecting coastal infrastructure
and limited building in fragile coastal areas. In addition, regional agreements to facilitate post-
disaster recovery should be developed before disasters.
If international assistance is to be offered in the future, the basis of that intervention would
have to be clearer. To what extent do those uprooted by environmental disaster have particular
protection? If protection and assistance were extended by the international refugee regime to
‘environmental refugees’, would this help the battle to focus the world’s attention on pressing
environmental problems (Black, 2001)?
Overall, there is considerable room for advancement across all research and policy agendas
on the social consequences of climate change. This paper contributes to a growing literature
dismissing the ‘securitization’ of the issue and instead calling for a focus on the development
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... A nivel mundial, los cambios climáticos ya representan uno de los factores que más desplaza a poblaciones desde las zonas rurales a las urbanas (ver Cattaneo et al., 2019;Peri y Sasahara, 2019;. Y es que una adaptación natural al cambio climático es moverse (Raleigh et al., 2008;Laczko y Aghazarm, 2009;Castells-Quintana et al., 2018). ...
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El año que cursamos, 2020, sin lugar a dudas y como consecuencia de la pandemia ocasionada por la COVID – 19 se ha tornado complejo, presentando escenarios catastróficos para la mayoría de países en el mundo. Si bien es cierto, en proyección, la sociedad se prepara para enfrentar crisis económicas y sociales quizá, nunca antes vividas; sin embargo, no se puede olvidar que durante los últimos años hemos estado inmersos en crisis progresivas que podrían tener consecuencias aún mayores para todos quienes habitamos el planeta tierra, uno de ellos y no solo a criterio de quien escribe, es el cambio climático, temática que abordaré a manera de reflexión desde una perspectiva espacial para Latinoamerica.
... Increasing environmental degradation due to climate change has led to loss of income and job opportunities with the occurrences of major droughts, floods, and famines. These have led to greater ruralto-urban migration in order to seek economic opportunity in urban settings (Grote and Warner 2010;Raleigh, Jordan, and Salehyan 2008). Several scenarios have been outlined that demonstrate the interaction of migration with both environmental change and political conflict (Freeman 2017). ...
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Global climate change has begun to cause widespread forced migration and drivers of this phenomenon are expected to intensify in the future, which is likely to result in increased immigration to countries in the Global North such as the USA. Here, two studies examine how belief in this phenomenon could influence Americans’ opinions on climate change and immigration. A correlational pilot study demonstrated that belief in climate-immigration was associated with greater climate change concerns and policy support. It was also associated with attributing more blame to immigrations for their predicament, especially among Republicans. This provides initial correlational evidence that that awareness of climate-induced migration is associated with pro-social responses. However, an experimental messaging study demonstrated that reading about climate-induced immigration (vs. immigration not linked to climate change) did not change participants’ climate concerns or climate policy support. Instead, reading about climate-induced immigration resulted in more negative attitudes toward immigrants. Our findings suggest that, as this issue becomes more salient in political discourse, policymakers, reporters, advocates, and other communicators should attend to the possibility of unintended negative consequences of their messages. Future research is needed to determine how to foster support on climate action while minimizing backlash against immigrants.
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Climate change is an extremely crucial issue in Bangladesh and is affecting people displacement in Bangladesh both sudden and gradual environmental change. To conduct the study, both the qualitative and quantitative approaches was adopted, the primary data are collected through participant observation, key informant interview (KII), Focus group discussion and Questionnaire methods. In total, 120 questionnaires were operated in 3 unions. In addition, estimate of Displacement hazard impact analysis, weight analysis, and effective adaptation analysis with various Ranking. The study prescribed 14 adaptation policies for resolving climate displacement problem, in which Incorporate climate Change in long term planning, Grass plantation, Multi crops cultivation in a land Promote awareness, Embankment construction, Salt production Using deep tube-well for pure drinking water, Livelihood skill development are highly effective adaptation policies. This study will help for resolving the displacement problem and overall adaptation goals.
In previous chapters, we established that Mexican law and public policies do not satisfactorily address internal forced climate mobility. With this void in mind, the phenomenon’s breadth, and the risks posed to migrants regarding protection requirements, we now reflect on the measures put in place by Mexican authorities to build up the public policies that would address this phenomenon.
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Preface. Part One: Natural Hazards and Human Perspectives. 1. Hazardous Environment and Disastrous Impact: The Challenge of Understanding and Responding. 2. Natural Disasters-Induced Displacement: An Overview of an Emergent Crisis. 3. Human Coping Responses to Natural Hazards: A Survey and Critique of Approaches. Part Two: Riverine Hazards and Human Ecology: Bangladesh. 4. Physical Dimensions of Riverine Hazards in the Bengal Basin: The Case of the Brahmaputra-Jamuna Floodplain. 5. Social Class Formation and Vulnerability of the Population: A Historical Account of Human Occupance and Land Resource Management. Part Three: Riverbank Erosion Hazard in Serajganj District: Impacts and Responses. 6. The Rural Study Design: The Characteristics of the Samples. 7. Impacts of Riverbank Erosion Disaster: Understanding Differentials in Rural Socio-economic Characteristics. 8. Coping Responses of Floodplain Users in Rural Kazipur. 9. The Displaced Poor in Urban Environments: The Case of Squatters in Serajganj. Part Four: Emerging Policy Issues: Towards Sustainable Reduction of Disasters and Floodplain Development. 10. Public Policy Issues: Water Management, Hazard Mitigation and Resettlement. 11. Towards a Sustainable Floodplain Development Strategy. Notes. References. Index.
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The objective of this chapter is to examine the nature of perception of hazards among floodplain inhabitants, to determine the indigenous adjustment strategies to cope with disasters, and finally, to determine policy lessons from the local learning. The findings suggest that the inhabitants are generally reluctant to take any measure to control or intervene the physical event system. Their responses are characterized by loss reduction strategies through investment in moveable assets and loss sharing through maintenance of close social ties and group coherence. As well, for generations, the rural households have made various types of indigenous adaptation to floods and riverbank erosion problems - they require policy attention.
A standard textbook on the field of behavioural geography, written at the peak of interest amongst geographers in cognitive-behaviouralism
Movement and change why they had to leave the process of escape destination- Thailand, Hong Kong and the Philippines the camp as resettlement institution the camp as controlling institution processes of salvation and orientation the Vietnamese community of refugees.
Residential relocation is one means of coping with living in a perceived high risk area. An analysis of a sample of household members who live in such an area showed the extent to which fear of a recurring emergency event affects attitudes toward seeking an alternative safer area to reside. Intent to relocate is linked to specific sub-groups of families on the basis of how they comprehend the risks of remaining (educational level) and extent of possible economic damage (level of assets). A series of independent variables reflecting affective-emotive behavior during the disaster. Post-crisis trauma related attitudes and pre/post disaster neighborhood bonds were likewise linked with an intention to move to a safer neighborhood. A regression model focused the analysis on the degree to which concern of psychological damage to children played a decisive role in determining a relocation decision.
Climate change-induced sea-level rise, sea-surface warming, and increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events puts the long-term ability of humans to inhabit atolls at risk. We argue that this risk constitutes a dangerous level of climatic change to atoll countries by potentially undermining their national sovereignty. We outline the novel challenges this presents to both climate change research and policy. For research, the challenge is to identify the critical thresholds of change beyond which atoll social-ecological systems may collapse. We explain how thresholds may be behaviorally driven as well as ecologically driven through the role of expectations in resource management. The challenge for the international policy process, centred on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is to recognize the particular vulnerability of atoll countries by operationalising international norms of justice, sovereignty, and human and national security in the regime.