How are migration and the environment connected?

In recent decades, the increase in the number of natural disasters and their media impact have led to a growing awareness of the connections between migration and the environment.

However, these connections are not new. Throughout history, people have adapted to their environment and transformed it, settling initially in the most hospitable areas and then migrating in response to demographic and environmental change.

Migration as a response to environmental change

Recent environmental changes have made some population groups more vulnerable. Such changes comprise sudden shocks (floods, earthquakes, etc.) and gradual processes. In 2013, 22 million people worldwide were displaced by disasters brought on by natural hazard events, according to a United Nations-backed report conducted by the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). This is almost three times more than by conflict in the same year. Gradual processes (global warming, desertification) have also forced certain population groups to leave their homes and migrate, temporarily or permanently.

Climate change

In the future, the following effects of climate could lead to knew population movements :

  • increased frequency and intensity of natural disasters,
  • deterioration of living conditions (spread of diseases linked to changes in ecosystems, weather conditions that endanger food supply, decreases in water supply),
  • rising sea levels,
  • increased competition for scarce resources.

Although the whole of our planet is concerned, certain regions are more affected than others (for example, densely populated river deltas in Asia or coastal areas).

Environmental change as an effect of migration

Migration for economic or political reasons can affect the environment. Migration of tourists can also endanger the environment, since even short term demographic shifts can cause overpopulation. Construction of luxury hotels in countries where water is sometimes scarce results in competition for water use which is detrimental to local populations. Analysis of the connections between migration and the environment should encompass the effects of tourism, which can be so massive that it can have as much impact as migration due to environmental factors.

Contact: Jacques Véron
Online: October 2014