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State of World Population 2009

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3  On the move

The environment has always shaped the movement of people and the distribution of the human population across the planet. Throughout history, people have left places with harsh or deteriorating conditions, and nomadic peoples have traditionally opted for seasonal migration to maintain their livelihoods in sensitive ecosystems.

An Indian villager carries her belongings through flood waters in the village of Sandeshkhali, 100 kilometres southeast of Kolkata.
© AFP/Getty Images

The droughts between 1930 and 1936 in the American "Dust Bowl" displaced hundreds of thousands of people, and the droughts that struck Africa's Sahelian region in the 1970s forced millions of farmers and nomads towards cities.(1)

But over the last two decades, the nature and scale of environmentally induced population movements have begun to change. While no reliable figures exist, the growing certainty about the impacts of climate change suggest that an increasing number of people will migrate mainly for environmental reasons in the future. Although the geography and scale of future movements of people is less easy to predict than the details of climate change itself, the probability is high that changes in sea levels, climate and other environmental conditions will spur major increases in movement in the coming decades. Societies would do well to consider now how to address environmentally influenced movements of people.

The relationship between environmental factors and human mobility is complex: on the one hand, environmental change triggers human movement. On the other hand, migration and displacement may take a toll on the environment—in areas of origin, areas of destination and the travel routes in between. Such a two-way connection between migration and the environment can result in a vicious circle: population movement contributes to environmental degradation in the area of destination, which may in turn provoke further migration and displacement. Environmental degradation refers to processes, such as rising sea levels, which can be caused or exacerbated by climate as well as by human activity through, for example, land degradation resulting from overly intensive farming.

In most cases, it is difficult to establish a simple and direct causal relation between the movement of people and environmental degradation. The links between the two are often complicated by other factors, such as conflict, governance and levels of development.

[15] No place left to go

These days, when Oreba Obiin takes a step out of her home, she steps into the sea. Oreba and her husband Titera live in an auti, or open hut, with their two sons, a few chickens, three piglets and a dog, part of the Tebike Inano community on low-lying coastal Tarawa, in their atoll nation of Kiribati.

Oreba, 51, has seen the sea change, especially in the past decade. The water is rising, she says, explaining that she and her husband have already had to add sand to their home's floor several times to keep it dry. "In the beginning our roof was very high. Now the roof is getting really close to us. If we keep adding sand to the floor, my head will soon touch the ceiling."

Oreba Obiin, 51, combats coastal erosion in Kiribati by planting mangrove seedlings.
© Reethu Arjun/UNPFA

Many inhabitants of Tarawa have built sea walls along the shoreline to protect their land, but if the sea continues to rise, the sea walls won't suffice. "We want to stay here...but if we have to move, then we have no choice," Oreba says.

But where will Oreba and thousands like her go?

Kiribati consists of 33 atolls, tiny specks of narrow land made of coral, sand and limestone, barely three metres above sea level, in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean. These islets are especially vulnerable to the impacts of global warming, ranging from rising seas, more violent storms, coastal erosion and the intrusion of salt into fresh-water tables. On some of the outer atolls, entire villages have already been washed away. Unlike other low-lying countries, however, the people of Kiribati have no higher ground to retreat to.

"Adaptation has very severe limitations for us," explains Kiribati's President Anote Tong. "If we move away from the shoreline we are already on the other shoreline, on the other side of the island."

Tong has set a clear course for dealing with short-term adaptation measures on the one hand and finding long-term solutions, on the other. "We will continue to live here for as long as we are able to live and will continue to need what we have needed over the years, so investments in infrastructure will have to carry on," Tong says. "But what options do we have if we don't relocate? We drown, don't we? We have to relocate. If we relocate to another country, of course we would lose some of the culture. But if we don't, we would lose the entire nation and our people. It's not a choice, it's a necessity."

Climate change and human mobility

As early as 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated that "one of the gravest effects of climate change may be those on human migration."(2) This statement was substantiated by the Panel's 2007 Fourth Assessment Report, which showed that climate change is likely to raise the risk of humanitarian emergencies and trigger population movements as a result of increasingly intense weather events, sea-level rise and accelerated environmental degradation.(3)

Climate change and its adverse consequences for livelihoods, public health, food security, and water availability will have a major impact on human mobility, likely leading to a substantial rise in the scale of migration and displacement. Such environmentally induced movements are likely to take place mostly within countries but also to a lesser extent across national borders.(4) The effects of climate change may also render some people stateless.

The numbers gap

While many experts agree that climate change is expected to become one of the key factors prompting population movement in the next decades, there is still uncertainty about the scale and nature of the impacts of climate change and about the best policies and strategies for addressing the problem. One reason for the uncertainty is the dearth of reliable data. But despite the shortage of hard data, it is evident that environmental changes are already resulting in substantial human migration and displacement.

Recorded natural disasters(5) have doubled from approximately 200 a year to over 400 a year over the past two decades, with seven out of every 10 disasters recorded as "climate-related."(6) The total number of people suffering the impacts of these natural disasters has tripled over the past decade, with an average of 211 million people directly affected each year.(7) The annual average "humanitarian toll" of climate-related disasters was an estimated 165 million people in the 30 years between 1973 and 2003, amounting to a staggering 98 per cent of all persons killed or affected by natural disasters within that period.(8) There are also indications that this figure is on the rise: from 1998 to 2007, 2.2 billion people were affected by climate disasters compared to 1.8 billion in the 10 previous years.(9)

There are various estimates for the number of people already displaced by environmental changes, with 25 million being the most widely quoted figure.(10) This figure does not include a potentially greater number of people who moved as a result of gradual environmental changes, such as drought or soil erosion. The figure also does not take into account those who have been displaced by other adverse consequences of climate change, such as diminished food security.

Estimating future climate change-related population flows presents an even greater challenge, with figures ranging wildly from 50 million to 1 billion people by the middle of the century, either within their countries or across borders, on a permanent or temporary basis.(11) The most widely used estimate of people to be displaced by environmental factors by 2050 is 200 million.(12)

Large discrepancies among the various estimates raises important questions not only about the reliability and availability of data, but also about the methodologies and definitions used to collect and analyse the information and about underlying assumptions made by the people looking at the numbers. Developing reliable estimates of climate change-related population flows is fraught with challenges, including the complex relationship between environmental factors and human mobility, uncertainty about climate-change impacts and scenarios, and the need to account for other variables, such as demographic trends and projections.(13) In addition, environmental processes and migration responses vary in time and space, further complicating the analysis.

The absence of generally agreed terminology is another challenge. The popular terms "climate refugee" or "environmental refugee" have no basis in existing international refugee law. Often those persons referred to as "climate refugees" have not actually crossed an international border. The use of such terminology can exacerbate confusion regarding the link between climate change, environmental degradation and migration.

[16] Definitions of people who are on the move

There is no international consensus on terminology about people who move in response to climate-related factors. The International Organization for Migration has proposed a working definition of "environmental migrants" as "persons or groups of persons who, for compelling reasons of sudden or progressive changes in the environment that adversely affect their lives or living conditions, are obliged to leave their habitual homes, or choose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, and who move either within their country or abroad."(14)

Internally displaced persons
The currently accepted definition of internally displaced persons is "persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized State border." This definition includes all those forcibly displaced within their country due to the effects of climate change.

Refugees
Under international law, a refugee is a person who "owing to well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinions, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country, or who, not having a nationality and being outside of the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it." The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has a mandate to protect, as refugees, persons who fear serious and indiscriminate threats to life, physical integrity or freedom resulting from generalized violence or events seriously disturbing public order, in addition to persons falling within the 1951 Refugee Convention (1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees) definition. These definitions exclude anyone who crosses borders solely because of environmental degradation in their nations of origin.

Stateless persons
A stateless person is defined as "a person who is not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law. Persons who possess a nationality in formal terms but whose nationality is ineffective are generally referred to as "de facto stateless persons." Additionally, a "stateless refugee" is defined in the 1951 Refugee Convention as a person "who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it."

Substantial environmentally induced population flows are likely in the future, and these flows will have implications for humanitarian relief and migration management. Even low-end estimates of slow or sudden population movements would pose enormous global challenges. Meeting the needs of additional millions leaving home as a result of climate change-related factors would severely test the efficacy and sustainability of humanitarian response models currently employed by the United Nations and international relief organizations.

Myths vs. reality

Suggestions that millions of environmental migrants are poised to flee developing countries to permanently seek safety and new lives in industrialized countries are misleading.

Overall, environmental migration is—and is likely to continue to be—mainly an internal phenomenon, with a smaller proportion of movement taking place between neighbouring countries, and even smaller numbers migrating long distances beyond the region of origin. Furthermore, a number of studies, such as one in rural Mali during the 1983 to 1985 drought, revealed that environmental degradation may actually contribute to a decline in the rates of international, long-distance moves.(15) This is likely due to the relatively high cost of long-distance migration, which fewer households can afford in drought years. When long-distance migration does take place, the destination is usually based on the location of existing support networks, established or traditional migration routes and, in many cases, the historical ties between the country of origin and the country of destination. Many environmentally induced population movements are temporary; many people prefer to return home as soon as it's safe and feasible.

The majority of environmental migrants have so far come from rural areas within the least developed countries. But in the future, there may indeed be unprecedented levels of environmentally induced migration out of urban areas, as rising seas threaten to inundate densely populated coastal areas, where 60 per cent of the world's 39 largest metropolises are located, including 12 cities with populations of more than 10 million.(16)

Environmental drivers

In some cases, extreme weather events, such as cyclones, drive people from their homes, but in many more cases, insidious environmental degradation provides the impetus for leaving. Not all environmental degradation is related to climate change, and therefore not all movements in response to environmental degradation are related to climate change.

It is likely that both extreme weather events and changes in mean temperatures, precipitation and sea levels will in many cases contribute to increasing levels of mobility. But there are inherent difficulties in predicting with any precision how climate change will impact on population distribution and movement. This is partly because of the relatively high levels of uncertainty about the specific effects of climate change, and partly because of the lack of comprehensive data on migration flows, especially movements within national boundaries and in particular for low-income countries that are likely to be most affected by climate change.(17)

For a clearer picture of human mobility and environ-mental change, it is useful to distinguish between the effects of sudden events or natural disasters and slow-onset processes. Both influence population mobility patterns but in different ways.

Natural disasters, including those related to climate change, may destroy basic infrastructure, disrupt services and undermine livelihoods, often resulting in sudden, large-scale movements of people. For instance, Hurricane Katrina, which hit the United States in August 2005, displaced about 1 million people.

Many people who leave their homes in the wake of natural disasters eventually return. But the ability to leave disaster-stricken areas and return to them is influenced by factors such as perceived risk, socio-economic status and mitigation through aid and subsidies.

While major natural disasters, such as Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, claim most of the world's headlines, the less-dramatic but equally devastating gradual environmental changes go largely unnoticed by the international media. Yet it is these gradual changes, including desertification, water scarcity and coastal and soil erosion, that are responsible for the majority of environmentally induced population movements.

[17] Climate-change scenarios and their impact on population movements

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fourth Assessment Report, population movements may be triggered by increases in the areas affected by droughts, increased tropical cyclone activity, increased incidence of extreme high sea-level rise (excluding tsunamis) and increased climate variability.(18) Meanwhile, Walter Kälin, Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, has identified five climate change scenarios, each of which has a different impact on the pace or scale of migration or displacement:

  • Hydro-meteorological disasters, including extreme weather events such as hurricanes, flooding and mudslides, which may lead to sudden-onset displacement.
  • Environmental degradation, including desertification, water scarcity and soil exhaustion, which may result in gradual migration or displacement.
  • Losses in state territory, including erosion and coastal flooding resulting from rising sea levels. Persons living in low-lying coastal areas and the so-called "sinking" small island developing states, such as the Maldives, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, will be most affected by this scenario. It may lead to gradual migration and displacement, and possibly even to statelessness.
  • Designation of "high risk" areas by national authorities, including territories that are prone to disasters and that are designated as unsafe, leading to the forced relocation of its inhabitants. This scenario may cause gradual migration, relocation and displacement, most often within the same state.
  • Violence and armed conflict over scarce and diminishing natural resources, including conflict arising from food and water insecurity and lack of arable land. This scenario may cause both gradual and sudden migration and displacement.

In Africa, for instance, an estimated 10 million people are likely to have migrated or been displaced over the last two decades mainly in response to environmental degradation and desertification.(19)

Gradual environmental changes can produce a variety of migration flows, with the majority likely to occur internally or across borders into neighbouring countries.

Different stages of environmental degradation can be expected to have different outcomes for the movement of people. At early and intermediate stages of environmental degradation, migratory responses are often temporary in nature and are more likely to be non-forced. When environmental degradation becomes severe or irreversible, as in cases of sea-level rise, resulting displacement can become permanent and requires resettlement of affected populations.

Some areas may be exposed to a combination of gradual environmental degradation and natural disasters. In such cases, degradation can substantially increase the vulnerability of the area to the effects of natural disasters.

[18] Managing climate-induced population movements in Nepal

Repeated flooding in eastern and western Nepal in August 2008 affected more than 250,000 people, many of whom were living in poverty and had already endured floods and landslides a year earlier.

Floods and landslides are seasonal disasters in Nepal and are linked to the clearing of the forests, particularly in hilly areas. Climate change is expected to further exacerbate the frequency and intensity of flooding, as rains spread westward across the country and melting snow and glaciers cause already-swollen rivers to overflow their banks in the rainy season.

Nepal ranks among countries with a low "human development index," with over 80 per cent of the population surviving on less than $2 per day.

Gender is one of the factors influencing vulnerability to natural disasters in Nepal. As more and more males migrate from mountainous regions and rural areas to newly developed cities, more and more women are becoming heads of households, remaining in areas prone to flooding and are therefore most vulnerable to climate-related disasters.

In eastern Nepal in 2008, a retaining wall along the Koshi River collapsed, washing away whole villages in the Sunsari and Saptari districts and affecting about 70,000 people. The force of the water was so strong that the river's course changed almost completely, blocking access to some flooded areas and stranding tens of thousands of people in makeshift camps. In response to the catastrophe, the International Organization for Migration led the coordination of the international humanitarian response of the United Nations, the Red Cross and Red Crescent, non-governmental organizations and other actors to assist the Government of Nepal in addressing urgent humanitarian needs while laying the foundation for more durable solutions and building national capacities for disaster-risk reduction, paving the way for safe, voluntary and orderly returns.

Compounding factors

The relationship between environmental factors and the movement of people can both affect and be affected by conflict. Changes in population distribution associated with environmental degradation and climate change can lead to increased resource inequality and competition over resources such as water or land, potentially resulting in conflict. In Darfur, for example, desertification, land degradation and deforestation have exacerbated the effects of recurrent droughts on communities and have contributed to tensions between nomadic pastoralists and farmers over increasingly scarce pastures, arable soil and fresh water.(20) Current research, however, suggests that although environmental stresses or unmanaged movement of people may contribute to and exacerbate pre-existing tensions, it is not a simple cause-and-effect relationship. Empirical evidence does not support the view that environmental change automatically creates mass migration, which would in turn spur violent conflicts. Much depends on the local context.

Population growth, poverty and systems of governance also influence how environmental change affects people's lives and livelihoods. The twin concepts of "carrying capacity" and "caring capacity" are relevant too. Carrying capacity refers to the particular characteristics of an ecosystem that affect how it sustains human activity or how it becomes vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change. Caring capacity describes the social, developmental and institutional variables that underpin the ability of institutions to cope with environmental stresses.(21) The potential adverse effects of climate change are likely to be especially severe in countries that have both limited carrying and caring capacities.(22)

Move or stay?

The decision to move or stay is usually made at the individual or household levels, especially when gradual environmental degradation is the problem. Therefore, an analysis of how individuals, households and, in some cases, communities respond to environmental change provides insights into when migration is likely, who is likely to migrate and why.

Man runs for shelter from storm near Niamey, Niger.
© AFP/Getty Images

Decisions to migrate are complex and depend on many considerations, including the interplay between carrying and caring capacities. Isolating environmental and especially climate change-related factors from other reasons for migration is therefore difficult in theory and practice. Within any given set of social and environmental circumstances, decisions to move or stay depend on incomes, social networks, local patterns of gender relations and the perceived alternatives to moving. Therefore, just as the environment is only one among many factors that drive migration, migration is only one among many possible responses to environmental change.

Meanwhile, the distinction between voluntary and forced migration is sometimes blurred, further complicating efforts to determine whether or when people will leave their homes because of climate-related circumstances. With the exception of natural disasters that provoke flight in the moment of occurrence, it is usually an accumulation of economic, social and political factors that leads an individual to a decision to move. Through a progressive worsening of conditions, a tipping point may be reached: the decision to move may not be forced, but may also no longer be voluntary. On one end of the continuum are clear cases of forced migration. On the other are clear cases of voluntary migration. A large grey area exists in between the two.

Unequal impacts

Climate change tends to exacerbate differences among various groups, in terms of vulnerability and ability to cope with the effects. In general, vulnerable and socially marginalized groups, such as the poor, children, women, the elderly, and indigenous peoples, tend to bear the brunt of environmental change. It is therefore essential to mainstream considerations of gender, age and diversity into the analysis of climate-change consequences and to focus policy responses on these groups.

Because migration requires economic and other resources, it is a coping strategy not available to everyone. Women, children and the elderly are usually the ones who stay behind, while younger male members are more likely to leave home. Remaining members of the household, particularly women, may therefore become even more vulnerable since they may have to shoulder the burden of caring for the household while having access to fewer income-earning opportunities. In Senegal's Tambacounda region, for example, 90 per cent of the men between the ages of 30 and 60 have migrated at least once in their lifetime. This migration has increased the economic burden on the remaining women and children.(23)

Climate change tends to exacerbate differences among various groups, in terms of vulnerability and ability to cope with the effects. In general, vulnerable and socially marginalized groups, such as the poor, children, women, the elderly, and indigenous peoples, tend to bear the brunt of environmental change.

In some cases, out-migration of males may also increase women's vulnerability to the effects of natural disasters, and there is evidence that vulnerability to such disasters differs between men and women. Statistically, natural disasters kill more women than men, or kill women at a younger age than men. In 1991, for example, a cyclone in Bangladesh resulted in five times more deaths of women than men.(24) The differences in death rates between men and women in natural disasters are directly linked to the differences in socio-economic status between the sexes and the degree to which women enjoy economic and social rights. Low socio-economic status of women correlates with larger differences in death rates. Restrictions on behaviour and limited access to information and resources can directly reduce women's chances of survival during a natural disaster or in its aftermath. In addition, because women are the main care givers in many societies, they tend to look after their children's safety at the expense of their own in a crisis.

In addition, because women are disproportionately involved in subsistence farming, natural-resource management and water collection in developing countries, they are more likely to be affected than men by the effects of soil erosion, desertification, droughts, water shortages, floods and other environmental changes.(25)

Both in gradual and sudden migration and displacement scenarios, pre-existing patterns of discrimination and abuse are often aggravated. Women and girls are at risk to sexual and gender-based violence, human trafficking, child abuse and alcohol-related abuse. Displaced and refugee women and girls face more dangers in conventional camp and urban settings when gathering firewood, water and seeking livelihoods. In many societies, women are at a further disadvantage when trying to obtain documentation or regain ownership of property.

Furthermore in the context of forced displacement, disasters and crisis, the capacities of health-care systems to respond to increased needs of affected populations are often disrupted or weakened. Because there may be multiple competing health priorities during an emergency, there is a danger that the supply of reproductive health services for women and girls may not meet demand.(26) In general, population displacements increase the health risks for the most vulnerable populations, including pregnant women, the elderly and people with disabilities.

The poor, other marginalized groups and people living in densely populated cities in deltas around the world are particularly vulnerable to climate disasters and slow-onset environmental degradation. The poor often live in slums and in the outskirts of these cities, with limited access to infrastructure, health care and other services. Migration to cities from environmentally degraded rural areas or from areas stricken by natural disasters may exacerbate slum conditions. Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital, on the banks of the Buriganga River, is the world's fastest-growing mega-city with a population of more than 12 million people—double the number of a decade ago—and is projected to grow to 20 million by 2020.(27) Dhaka's slum population, estimated at 3.4 million, is also expected to grow, with as many as 400,000 migrants, most of them poor, arriving each year from rural and coastal areas where environmental hardship is increasingly common.(28)

Because of inadequate absorptive capacity of many of the world's cities and the lack of planning for future growth, rural-to-urban migrants often have no choice but to overexploit or pollute natural resources to meet basic needs. In the absence of affordable housing, migrants may resort to unregulated construction, as well as unsustainable livelihoods and unsanitary practices leading to serious public health risks and degraded land, which exacerbates the effects of and vulnerability to mudslides and floods.(29)

The other side of environmental migration

Not all the news about environmentally induced migration is bad. In some cases, environmentally induced population movements have benefited individuals and communities. Returning migrants may bring with them newly acquired skills and know-how, creating new opportunities for livelihoods and potentially boosting the local economy.(30) Mobility may therefore contribute to the adaptation of people affected by environmental change. Conversely, immobility may increase people's vulnerability to environmental pressures.

According to Cecilia Tacoli of the International Institute for Environment and Development, underlying many of the predictions of hundreds of millions of "climate refugees" and "climate migrants" are the views that migration reflects a failure to adapt to changes in the physical environment and that migrants are a relatively undifferentiated group, all responding similarly to emergencies and moving to unspecified destinations. This view is at odds with a more nuanced and realistic view that migration is an adaptive response to socio-economic, cultural and environmental change. There is growing evidence that mobility, in conjunction with income diversification, is an important strategy to reduce vulnerability to environmental and other risks. In many cases, mobility not only increases resilience to climate change but also enables individuals and households to accumulate assets. Policies that support and accommodate mobility and migration are important for both adaptation and the achievement of broader development goals.(31)

The way forward

No one knows for sure how many people will be on the move as a result of insidious environmental decline or hurricanes, cyclones and other climate-related natural disasters in the decades ahead. Whether the total is 50 million or 1 billion, the international community must be prepared for an increasing number of people temporarily or permanently leaving their homes.

Relief organizations, policymakers, donors, host nations and affected countries themselves are ill-equipped for environmentally induced population movements, partly because of a shortage of credible data and forecasts, which are essential for raising awareness and mobilizing the political will and resources needed to tackle emerging challenges. Furthermore, a better understanding of the impact of environmental factors on population movements and distribution, as well as more detailed and gender-sensitive information on which areas and populations will be affected most, are urgently needed to effectively plan for, adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change on human mobility.(32) This will require not only interdisciplinary research but also multi-stakeholder collaboration in the development of comprehensive approaches.

National and international policies are needed to address environmentally induced population movements. National Adaptation Programmes of Action do not yet include provisions for migration, and national migration management policies do not yet incorporate environment and climate-change considerations. Similarly, the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change does not yet consider the implications for climate change on human mobility.

The effectiveness of efforts to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change will depend on the full participation and contribution of women and girls. Improving women's engagement is not only instrumental to reducing their vulnerability but may also significantly contribute to whole communities' survival. The success of adaptation strategies will also depend on the participation of indigenous peoples. Learning from the rich experience of the indigenous peoples, building on the local resources and knowledge to design the appropriate adaptation solutions, has often proved to be the most successful way to increase the resilience of affected populations. Engagement of indigenous people in decision-making about adaptation strategies is also important because these communities are among those most profoundly affected by climate change: their identities are closely linked to their traditional territories and livelihoods, both of which may be threatened by the impact of climate change, which could drive them from their homes.

Migration can be an effective way to adapt to the effects of climate change. Unplanned, sudden migration in response to a natural disaster, however, is likely to set in motion a chain of events which may result in new or additional hardships, including conflict, poverty and further environmental decline. Comprehensive research—including mapping and geographic information system surveys—could provide some of the tools needed to avert or reduce the likelihood of catastrophic upheavals of vulnerable communities, leaving migration a matter of choice rather than necessity and survival itself.

[19] Temporary migration programme benefits environmentally vulnerable communities in Colombia

Many areas of Colombia are vulnerable to seasonal environmental risks, including water scarcities, floods and soil erosion. In February 2009, for example, the Mira River overflowed its banks, affecting more than 30,000 people.

Environmental vulnerabilities aggravated by climate change are also exacerbated by poverty. These factors, along with conflict and security issues, drive internal and international population movements. An estimated 3.3 million Colombians have moved to other countries, and their remittances to Colombia totalled $4.6 billion in 2007 alone.

Recognizing the potential contribution of migration to development and adaptation to climate change, Colombia established a programme in 2006 that facilitates temporary, seasonal migration to Spain. Originally, the programme aimed to help households whose livelihoods were lost after a volcano erupted in the Galeras region. Since then, how-ever, the programme has been expanded to include people in rural communities where crops and land are vulnerable to floods and other natural disasters.

In Spain, migrants earn an income, mostly through agricultural work, which helps them cover family health-care costs, children's education and housing, and enables women and men to invest in projects for the benefit of their home communities. Migrants also acquire new skills, which can help them diversify their incomes when they return to Colombia.

The programme, supported by the European Union, allows Colombians to increase their resilience to environmental challenges and offers them an alternative to permanent relocation. The recurring six-month placements provide ample time for ecologically fragile land to recover so that marketable crops may again be grown on them.

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