Chopped by Benard Ogembo
© DW Documentary

Conflict and Migration. Effects of Climate Change and Impending Disaster.

SDG 6 SDG 11 SDG 13

Extreme rainfall raises the risk of soil erosion, landslides and flooding, which can threaten agricultural productivity and infrastructure, posing serious threats to people’s economic and physical security.

Floods can also contaminate water supplies and increase the likelihood of water-borne disease, such as cholera. By contrast, too little rainfall can lead to droughts, which can devastate crops and livestock, deplete food supplies and increase the risk of wildfires.

According to the 2011 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on extreme events, in the past 60 years, some regions including West Africa, have experienced more intense and prolonged droughts, whereas regions such as central North America have actually experienced less frequent and less intense droughts than they did in the middle of the 20th century.

In recent years, few African regions have been immune to climate-driven resource pressures. Erratic rainfall has contributed to communal conflict across sub-Saharan Africa. In Eastern Africa in particular, drought and livestock diseases have sparked ‘range wars’.

A 2009 UNEP report stated that “the potential consequences of climate change for water availability, food security, prevalence of disease, coastal boundaries, and population distribution may aggravate existing tensions and generate new conflicts”.

The concept of climate migration has been loosely defined as the forced displacement of individuals or groups by sudden or gradual changes in their environment that adversely affect living conditions.

The factors behind climate migration are numerous, and diverse: these “sudden or gradual changes” can include rising sea levels eroding the land beneath coastal communities, the desertification of farmland, or the major damage and flooding that a tropical cyclone can inflict.

Water scarcity, too, represents a major threat to human development and security that is certain to exacerbate as temperatures rise. Almost 40 per cent of Africans live in water-scarce environments; by 2030, a lack of water is projected to displace upwards of 24 million people.

Research shows that most migrants who move to avoid environmental problems do so for relatively short distances and durations, and that the poorest and most vulnerable people are the least likely to move.

While some governments see migration as a problem and something to discourage, for the migrants themselves movement is a form of adaptation to climate change.

Climate migration can be short-term or long-term; an annual movement to cope with yearly flooding, or a sudden response to a natural disaster that has wiped out an entire town.

As with many trends, it is impossible to assign total causation for the migration of peoples to climate change; many other social, political, and cultural factors are always involved.

Throughout much of Africa, climate migration is driving urbanisation, one of the defining features of Africa’s shifting demographics. According to the UN, by 2050, Africa’s urban population will jump from 414 million to 1.2 billion people.

While urbanization can propel economic growth, an explosive growth in urban populations can place a strain on cities’ limited resources, and further exacerbate existing stresses. In particular, climate change is expected to further increase the number of Africans living in slums: as of 2010, 61.7 per cent of sub-Saharan Africa’s urban population were slumdwellers,
more than anywhere else in the world.

The crowding of African slums, many of which are low-lying and thus themselves prone to flooding, is in turn is likely to increase vulnerabilities to malnutrition, poor sanitation, air pollution, and disease.

Chopped by

Benard Ogembo

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