“Cause Behind African Migrant Flood Has Terrifying Implications for the World”
Reuters, April 21, 2015
“The migrant crisis in the Mediterranean is symptomatic of deep dislocation in the Sahel region and sub-Saharan Africa — dislocation exacerbated by climate change. Climate change is affecting such basic environmental conditions as rainfall patterns and temperatures and is contributing to more frequent natural disasters like floods and droughts. Over the long term, these changing conditions can undermine the rural livelihoods of farming, herding and fishing. The resulting rural dislocation is a factor in people’s decisions to migrate. Migratory decisions are complex, of course, and nobody would argue that climate change is the only factor driving them. But climate change cannot be ignored. The second-order effects of climate change — undermined agriculture and competition for water and food resources — can contribute to instability and to higher numbers of migrants. … In northwest Africa, climate change will exacerbate difficulties in areas already facing numerous environmental and developmental challenges. Overall, up to 250 million people in Africa are projected to suffer from water and food insecurity in the 21st century. In the Sahel region, three-quarters of rain-fed arable land will be greatly affected by climate change. Droughts and flooding are already more frequent in Niger and northern Nigeria, along with temperature rises that jeopardize crucial rural activities. … Lake Chad, which supports 25 million people, is drying up and is one-twentieth of its size in 1960. Northern Algeria, home to most of the country’s population and agriculture, may see rainfall reductions of 10 percent to 20 percent by 2025. Rainfall in Morocco is expected to decrease by 20 percent by the end of the century. … Nigeria is losing more than 1,350 square miles of land to desertification each year, a pace that may increase with climate change. With 70 percent of Nigeria’s population reliant on agriculture for its livelihood, and 90 percent of Niger’s workforce reliant on rain-fed agriculture, desertification represents a fundamental threat to rural life. … These are not the abstract complaints of climate scientists; this is profoundly disruptive in a region dependent on agriculture. In Niger, frequent droughts have impoverished many and contributed to migration. When faced with deteriorating conditions, humans have long turned to migration; it is a basic adaptive mechanism.”
Quickie analysis: War and economics remain important push-pull factors in migration decisions, but climate change, especially in the Sahel, is becoming a critical and yet frequently overlooked driver of migration.