Since 1975
  • facebook
  • twitter

Climate migration challenge needs to be urgently tackled

Analysis of recent climate disasters, such as Storm Daniel, shows how the MENA region is grappling with climate migration (AFP)
Analysis of recent climate disasters, such as Storm Daniel, shows how the MENA region is grappling with climate migration (AFP)
Short Url:
02 Feb 2024 04:02:32 GMT9
02 Feb 2024 04:02:32 GMT9

Despite global efforts to quell the ravages of climate change, natural disasters have, in recent years, been triggering a serious discourse on the best ways to support those who are forcibly displaced as a result of climate-induced events.

Climate migration occurs when natural disasters and ecological transformations render specific regions uninhabitable, leading to the internal or external displacement of local communities in pursuit of safer and more sustainable living environments. Although the majority of climate displacement occurs within national borders and displaced individuals may have the opportunity to return to their homes following a disaster, the unpredictable and escalating impacts of climate change are rendering certain regions uninhabitable.

Analysis of recent climate-induced disasters demonstrates how the people of the Middle East and North Africa region are grappling with climate migration. For instance, Storm Daniel, which occurred in September 2023, stands as the most fatal Mediterranean tropical-like cyclone in recorded history. It led to the displacement of about 45,000 individuals. Meanwhile, Mediterranean countries such as Morocco and Algeria were harshly impacted during a severe heat wave in July and August 2022, with the ensuing wildfires prompting 9,500 displacements from rural areas in northern Morocco alone.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, an international nongovernmental organization dedicated to monitoring data concerning the world’s internally displaced persons, last year released statistics that highlight the calamity of climate migration. Since 2008, a staggering 376 million people globally have been forcibly displaced due to a number of climate-induced events and disasters, such as floods, windstorms, wildfires, earthquakes, tsunamis or droughts.

As climate change remains the primary catalyst for natural disasters, the number of climate refugees is expected to keep increasing

Sara Al-Mulla

A worrying upward trend has been observed since 2020, with the data revealing that, between the end of 2021 and the end of 2022, the number of individuals internally displaced by disasters surged by 45 percent, or 32.6 million. In 2022, the MENA region recorded an astonishing 305,000 displacements due to drought, wildfires and floods, which is nearly 25 percent more than in the previous year.

As climate change remains the primary catalyst for natural disasters, the number of climate refugees is expected to keep increasing. The Institute for Economics and Peace estimates that, in the direst circumstances, up to 1.2 billion individuals could face displacement by 2050 due to natural disasters.

The challenges climate refugees face play out in different ways as they navigate perilous journeys of migration. Climate refugees encounter various infringements on their basic human rights, including limited access to food, water, sanitation, housing, healthcare and education. Due to the sudden need for relocation, climate refugees also suffer from losses to their livelihoods and an inability to secure sustainable employment options, which consequently has a damaging impact on their mental and physical well-being. The severance of social connections and community ties also leads to isolation, anxiety and depression. Additionally, loopholes mean that legislation often does not provide full protection for climate refugees, making them prone to abuse, discrimination, exploitation, forced labor or trafficking.

Addressing the challenges of climate migration necessitates a significant course correction to overcome obstacles and achieve objectives. This can be strengthened by the cooperation of international players and local community organizations in safeguarding the rights and dignity of climate migrants. To grasp what lies ahead requires an understanding of the root causes of climate migration within each community. Then there is a need to work diligently to mitigate those triggers.

Long-term climate action strategies should envision a sustainable and resilient future, with particular focus on adaptation plans and environmental conservation. Programs should also include investments in agricultural technologies that boost productivity and, in turn, reduce food insecurity risks. Similarly, sustainable water resource management guidance will ensure water conservation in already water-stressed areas and improve access to clean water, while mitigating the impacts of droughts and floods.

To grasp what lies ahead requires an understanding of the root causes of climate migration within each community

Sara Al-Mulla

In the short run, governments should establish data centers that are responsible for monitoring climate events and issuing early warnings to alert communities about impending climate-related disasters, while also coordinating responses that ensure timely evacuation and preparedness. Social protection programs are the cornerstone for aiding vulnerable populations, while community awareness programs can inform local communities about climate risks and promote sustainable practices. Beyond this, it is vital to roll out skills development programs to equip individuals with the capacity to adapt and rebuild their livelihoods and local communities following a disaster.

Critically, discussions should be held on the national and international levels on the legal frameworks that protect the rights and needs of climate migrants. Currently, the 1951 Refugee Convention pertains solely to individuals who are persecuted due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. It has yet to recognize climate-related risks as grounds for refugee status.

International stakeholders should lay out clear plans for migration management to facilitate safe, orderly and dignified migration. Planned relocation initiatives may be coordinated by governments, humanitarian agencies and communities to transfer populations from areas severely impacted by climate change to more secure and resilient locations.

Assisting in the reconstruction of devastated communities affected by the impacts of climate change presents a viable option to reduce the need for external displacement. Enhancing access to sufficient financial resources will ensure the development of improved climate-proof infrastructure in susceptible areas across the MENA region, as well as fund the rebuilding of areas that have been devastated by natural disasters. In all, concerted efforts among government agencies, civil society, academia and the private sector will be fundamental in delivering these important programs.

As climate threats continue to grow, the development of effective climate migration policies will be critical in ensuring the protection, rights and sustainable resettlement of individuals and communities displaced due to environmental changes.

  • Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and children’s literature. She can be contacted at
Most Popular

return to top