Climate Change and Migration

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Do households living in climate-affected areas in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region believe that changes in climate patterns and their environment are taking place? Have households been affected by extreme weather events, and in that case to what extent and which events have had the largest impact? What are the coping strategies that households declare having used, or could be using to cope with climate change and weather shocks? To what extent are perceived and actual changes in weather patterns and the environment driving temporary and permanent migration flows in MENA countries?

Finally, to what extent do remittances reach households living in climate poor areas, and what is the impact of such remittances on poverty and human development indicators?

It is widely acknowledged that the MENA region will be strongly affected by climate change, and yet the current evidence on the relationship between climate change and migration in the MENA region is weaker than in most other regions (see Foresight 2011).

This study is not meant to review the limited evidence on climate change in the MENA region, nor does it provide specific policy recommendations (for a recent study doing just that, see Verner 2012; on the evidence and policies related to climate change worldwide, see World Bank 2010; and on migration, see Foresight 2011).

The aim of the study is more modest: it is to provide new empirical evidence on the relationship between weather patterns, perceptions of climate change, and migration so that at least partial answers can be provided to the questions asked above.

This introductory overview chapter summarizes the main results of the study. A more detailed synthesis is provided in chapter 1 (Wodon et al. 2013). The study is based in part on new household surveys collected in 2011 in climate-affected areas in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Syria, and the Republic of Yemen.

On purpose, in order to achieve variability in the data collected, the selection of the countries and areas sampled within countries included some countries and areas highly vulnerable to droughts, as is the case in Syria, and others much less vulnerable, as is the case in Egypt (given that Egypt’s agriculture is mostly irrigated).

The sample of countries also included low-income countries such as the Republic of Yemen, and higher-income countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, and Syria. Finally, the sample included countries and areas affected by diverse types of extreme weather events, including both droughts and floods (for example in some areas of Morocco).

Beyond survey data collection generating quantitative data, the study also relies in part on qualitative focus groups implemented in both urban and rural areas in the five countries in 2011.

In addition, some of the analysis is based on previously existing survey data for Morocco, as well as survey and census data for the Republic of Yemen. The context that led to the study and the literature to which it contributes, as well as the approach used for both quantitative and qualitative data collection are discussed in chapters 2 and 3.

This introduction focuses on the main empirical results which are provided in a series of technical papers in chapters 4 through 12. One important caveat is required before presenting the main results. It is sometimes said that “Climate is what we expect.

Weather is what we get.” Simply put, climate relates to the distribution of variables such as temperature and rainfall over a period of time, often 30 years at least. This distribution is characterized by its moments, including the mean and the variance of key climatic variables. Climate change is then used to refer to the change in the distribution of rainfall and temperature.

However, it is difficult to tell if the weather experienced at any point in time is due to a change in climate (the overall mean and variance of rainfall and temperature) or is simply part of an existing distribution.

The implication for this study is that our results do not provide clear new evidence on the direct relationship between climate change and migration per se, but the results do contribute to the evidence on three specific related issues: (1) the impact of weather shocks on migration; (2) the impact of perceptions of recent climate change on migration; and (3) the impact of climate patterns (but not directly climate change) on migration.  

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