Climate change to induce migration of 86m Africans, World Bank warns

Climate change

Climate change is one of humanity’s most insidious threats.

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Africa will be hit hardest by climate change, with up to 86 million people migrating within their own countries by 2050, a new report shows ahead of the climate summit (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland.

Based on analyses in West Africa and the Lake Victoria Basin, the World Bank’s Groundswell Africa report, released on Wednesday, shows that climate migration hotspots could emerge as early as 2030 and spread and intensify thereafter.

“Without concrete action, West Africa could see as many as 32 million people forced to move within their own countries by 2050. In Lake Victoria Basin countries, the number could reach a high of 38.5 million,” the UN warned in a statement.

The World Bank’s projection model uses climate and non-climate factors, reflecting different combinations of future climate change impacts and development pathways.

The Lake Victoria Basin (LVB) is one of the most mobile regions in the world, with a long history of trade, nomadic pastoralism and dry season migration.

“Migration (or mobility, more broadly) in the five basin countries —Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda — is intrinsically linked to the history, traditions, and social fabric. The basin contains the largest tropical freshwater lake in the world and has relatively moderate temperatures throughout the year,” the report explains.

“Climate change stressors, such as change in rainfall patterns, endanger ecological resilience, and affect migration patterns because populations have increased demand for land, food, and hydrological resources.”

The migration in LVB, the report says, is driven by “economic, social, religious, political, environmental, and increasingly, climate ‘push and pull’ factors.

In Rwanda, migrants are primarily people of working age (16 and older) and movements can be long-term, temporary or circular.

Urban centres in Tanzania, such as Dar es Salaam, Mwanza and Arusha, attract migrants because of economic opportunities, availability of land for settlement, and rich natural resources, experts say.

Uganda, with 1.5 million refugees, is the third largest refugee-hosting country in the world and the largest in Africa.

Burundi has a history of conflict displacement, including refugee flows and internal forced migration, while in Kenya people move from rural to urban areas and pastoral groups in the north migrate in search of pasture and water.

“Nomadic pastoralists in the Basin depend on favourable climate, and severe droughts have aggravated recurring tensions between farmers and pastoralists,” the report says.

“Environmental shocks and climate variability have affected agricultural productivity, which coupled with population pressures, have amplified rural to urban and rural to rural migration patterns across the Basin.”

Dissecting the report in an exclusive interview with the Nation on Wednesday, the World Bank’s lead environmental specialist, Kanta Kumari Rigaud, said that though climate change issues will not go away, countries must be better prepared for the impact of migration.

“We are reaffirming, through this report, the potency of climate change issues to drive internal migration as we focused our conversation on internal climate migration. This will resonate with people, not only for migration but also for development,” she said. 

Ms Kanta, with decades of experience researching climate change, urged Africa to prioritise early planning and adapt in a green, clean and inclusive way.

“We don’t want Kenya to suffer development challenges. Food security is a challenge and climate change increases the vulnerability of food security. This report brings in the impacts of a drop in crop production, which will bring a drop in food production,” she said.

The World Bank, she said, approved a $150 million loan to Kenya to combat climate change in rural areas and communities should be engaged on what transitions they need to make.

Ousmane Diagana, World Bank vice-president for Western and Central Africa, is wary of the challenges ahead.

“From pastoralists travelling the Sahel to fishermen braving the seas, the story of West Africa is a story of climate migrants. As countries are experiencing rises in temperatures, erratic rainfall, flooding, and coastal erosion, Africans will face unprecedented challenges in the coming years,” he observes. 

“This series of reports identifies priorities for climate action that can help countries move towards a green, resilient and inclusive development and generate opportunities for all African people.”

The World Bank notes that the impact of climate change, such as water scarcity, lower crop and ecosystem productivity, sea level rise and storm surge, will increasingly cause people to migrate.

“Some places will become less livable because of heat stress, extreme events and land loss while other areas may become more attractive as a consequence of climate-induced changes, like increased rainfall,” the report says.

“Unattended, these shifts will not only lead to climate-induced migration but could also deepen existing vulnerabilities and lead to increased poverty, fragility, conflict, and violence.”

But efforts to reduce global emissions and support green, inclusive, and resilient development, the report says, “could reduce the scale of climate migration by 30 per cent in the Lake Victoria region and as much as 60 per cent in West Africa”.

Hafez Ghanem, World Bank vice-president for Eastern and Southern Africa stressed that countries will have to create “climate-smart” jobs.

“Investments in resilience and adaptation can promote green industries, and when paired with investments in health, education, the digital economy, innovation, and sustainable infrastructure, they also have tremendous potential to create climate-smart jobs and boost economic growth,” he said.

“As part of this, a focus on women’s empowerment is critical to improve human capital and to reap the demographic dividend — significant aspects of building climate resilience in the years to come.”

The report provides, for the first time, a picture of the potential scale of internal climate migration in West Africa and the Lake Victoria Basin, as well as in-depth analyses of internal migration trends in Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda, World Bank officials say.

Africa, Ms Kanta said, will have to remind the world at COP26 that countries must reduce emissions because the impact comes back to haunt the regions and that adaptation comes at cost.