Friday, August 2, 2013

Sahel villagers fleeing climate change must not be ignored

Alice Thomas in the "povertymatters" blog at the Guardian (UK): Migration has always been a way of life in the Sahel, an arid belt of land that stretches across Africa just south of the Sahara. Many of the region's 100 million inhabitants lived for millennia as nomadic pastoralists who moved with their herds in search of water and pasture.

But recently, changes in rainfall patterns and rising temperatures have led to a disturbing form of population movement: climate displacement.

In June, I visited poor communities in Burkina Faso and Niger, at the heart of the Sahel. People described severe rainfall anomalies in recent years, which can be linked to climate change. In every village, the refrain was the same: "The rains are no longer predictable"; "They come too early and then end too soon"; "There is too much rain, or too little."

...These recurrent crises have pulled the most vulnerable Sahelians into a downward spiral wherein there is insufficient time to recover before the next shock hits. Repeated droughts and floods, combined with land degradation, have lowered crop yields and wiped out people's limited savings.

...In these cases, leaving home has become a negative coping mechanism – a distress signal. Having exhausted their assets, these vulnerable households cannot afford to migrate internationally in search of new skills or higher wages.

Rather, as a last resort, they seek out more productive farmlands to the south, or move to fast-growing urban slums where they engage in petty trade or, in the worst cases, beg. What is propelling people to move is not so much the pull of economic opportunity as the push of a changing climate...

Women at a well in Burkina Faso, shot by Adam Jones, Ph.D., Wikimedia Commons,  under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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