The climate-migration nexus

Pakistan Press Foundation

An oft ignored side of climate change is its impact on local migration. The regular environmental degradation facilitates migration from one place to another, but the rapidly changing climate has exacerbated this trend in human mobility as their vulnerabilities cross thresholds.

Pakistan is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, and ranks in the top 10 most effected countries on the Long-Term Climate Risk Index. At the same time, the rural to urban migration is also rampant; and while not all human mobility is climate driven, its share is not insignificant. This climate change – migration nexus is complex and needs to be tackled as it is imperiling human development.

According to Global Climate Risk Index 2019, Pakistan is among the most vulnerable countries that are recurrently affected by catastrophes. And because it is so densely populated, these events have much more resounding impact on the population displacement. Not only significant weather events like floods, droughts, and heat waves, but also slow changes in temperature and precipitation have affected the living standards and means of people in the rural areas; and more than half of the population of Pakistan lives in the rural areas. Moreover, it is the increasing frequency of these events that is accelerating the adverse impact on humans.

Hence, climate related migration from peri-urban and rural to urban areas is thriving. Key environmental reasons for rural to urban migration include degradation of land, crop failure, falling yields, food insecurity etc. from changes in the climate over time. The eventual motive for even climate-driven migrations is better standard of living and better earnings in the urban areas. However, with unchecked and rising urbanisation and no national policy on internal migration comes a mounting burden on the already questionable health, sanitation, housing, security, education, infrastructure, city capacity and other utilities in the urban areas.

With so many other demanding issues, allocating resources to climate changes is a struggle for countries like Pakistan. But the authorities will have to fish out means because the impact of harsh climatic conditions is not just limited to a few thousand people moving from rural to urban areas. The ultimate goal should be to address environment as well as protect livelihoods of a huge population residing in the rural areas.

Apart from working on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment to slowdown climatic ageing, a key globally acknowledged strategy is the mainstreaming migration as an adaptation strategy to climate change. This can be done through aggressive disaster risk management, urban planning, infrastructure and resource planning, housing planning etc. There is a need to address issues that can be controlled like poverty, healthcare, food shortages, and lack of job opportunities in the rural areas through institutional support, which could help the population become more adaptive to rapidly changing climate.

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