Thursday, February 14, 2013

Migration myths hold back successful climate adaptation

Dominic Kniveton and Max Martin in What do farmers in the tropics do when their land remains parched for years, or the delta islands on which they live are flooded more frequently because of a changing climate? If you think, like many still do, that they either stay put in increasing hardship or abandon their homes and emigrate to developed countries, it is time to think again.

People do migrate when faced with rapid and uncertain changes in their environment, but this is largely within their own country and sometimes within their home region. Such movements usually follow, build on or tweak established pathways of migration.

And most of the time, they eventually lead back home — people tend to move back and forth, looking for more productive livelihoods. The popular media sometimes set out vivid future scenarios of people abandoning their homes and fleeing en masse to faraway places. But there is no hard evidence to support such forecasts.

Internal migration is a trend we observed through ongoing research in Bangladesh carried out alongside the University of Dhaka's Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit.

In its first phase, the study, funded by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network, examined 14 villages in three districts: one largely affected by drought, one by flooding and one by cyclones. Through interviews and focus group discussions, we probed what goes on inside people's minds when they encounter these stresses and shocks.

...From our preliminary work, we get a sense that, faced with change, people are increasingly seeking diverse livelihood strategies — different ways to make a living. This includes migrating to locations within the country that are well-established as well as new to them. And while some do migrate internationally, long hauls are rare....

Flooding after a 1991 cyclone in Bangladesh, US Air Force photograph

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