Short-distance migration is crucial in climate adaptation

A recent study conducted by researchers at the School of International Development at the University of East Anglia challenges the common assumption that most migration is due to international factors such as climate change.

The research reveals that the majority of people move short distances within their own country in response to economic, social and environmental factors, such as climate change.

Short distance migration is crucial

The study focuses on the drylands of India, Ghana, Kenya and Namibia, which are facing increasing pressures such as aridity, soil degradation, rapid population growth, poverty and isolation from national centers of power.

The researchers argue that supporting and enabling this type of mobility can help people to adapt to the pressures in their lives.

The study, titled ‘Everyday mobility and changing livelihood trajectories: implications for vulnerability and adaptation in dryland regions’, was led by Dr. Mark Tebboth, Associate Professor in Environment and International Development.

It was published in a special issue on Everyday Adaptations in the journal Ecology and Society.

Low and highly variable water availability

Drylands are the largest global biome, covering around 45% of the Earth’s land surface and accommodating more than a third of the globe’s population.

These regions are characterized by low and highly variable water availability and high temperatures. The study sites in India were in North Karnataka’s Kolar district and the Gulburga district.

The former sees diversification to non-farm labour and daily commuting to Bangalore, while the latter sees agricultural livelihoods dominate and has experienced historical outmigration to large cities.

In Kenya, the study sites were in Isiolo, which is known as the “gateway to the north” and relies on pastoralism, farming, and tourism. Water is a scarce resource in Isiolo, and this problem is likely to worsen in the future.

The study also included locations in the Upper West region of Ghana and the Omusati region of north-central Namibia.

Normalized within lives and livelihoods

Dr. Tebboth highlighted that this type of everyday mobility is common and not exceptional, contrary to what alarmist discourses of “climate migration” might suggest.

He emphasized that the movement is ubiquitous and normalized within lives and livelihoods and that these movements are crucial in helping people manage different shocks and stresses within their lives, including increasing climate variability.

Dr. Tebboth said, “In reality, it is normalized within lives and livelihoods, and these movements are crucial in helping people to manage different shocks and stresses within their lives, including increasing climate variability. Most mobility, especially that in which environmental change is of some influence, is and will remain local.”

The study argues that local migration can help people to adapt to the pressures in their lives and that enabling and supporting this type of mobility can be beneficial.

The researchers suggest that policymakers should consider this type of migration when designing adaptation and mitigation strategies for the drylands.

The study’s findings also imply that addressing the drivers of mobility, such as poverty and access to services and markets, is crucial to reducing vulnerability to climate change and building resilience in the drylands.

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