Nidhi Nagabhatla is a Principal Researcher at the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment, and Health.
Do migrants willingly choose to flee their homes, or is migration the only option available?
There is no clear, one-size-fits-all explanation for a decision to migrate — a choice that will be made today by many people worldwide, and by an ever-rising number in years to come due to a lack of access to water, climate disasters, a health crisis, and other problems.
Data is scarce on the multiple causes, or “push factors”, limiting our understanding of migration. What we can say, though, is that context is everything.
United Nations University researchers and others far beyond have been looking for direct and indirect links between migration and the water crisis, which has different faces — unsafe water in many places, and chronic flooding or drought in other places.
The challenge is separating those push factors from the social, economic, and political conditions that contribute to the multi-dimensional realities of vulnerable migrant populations — all of them simply striving for dignity, safety, stability, and sustainably in their lives.
A new report, Water and Migration: A Global Overview, from the UNU Institute for Water, Environment, and Health, offers insights into water and migration interlinkages, and suggests how to tackle existing gaps and needs.
The report’s information can be understood easily by stakeholders and proposes ideas for better informed migration-related policymaking. This includes a three-dimensional framework applicable by scholars and planners at multiple scales and in various settings.
The report also describes some discomforting patterns and trends, among them:
Case studies in the report provide concrete examples of the migration consequences in water- and climate-troubled situations, including:
While the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) do not include an explicit migration target, mitigation of migration should be considered in the context of SDGs that aim to strengthen capacities related to water, gender, climate, and institutions. These issues resonate even as the world deals with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recent news stories have chronicled the plight of desperate migrant workers trapped in the COVID-19 crisis in India, and of displaced people in refugee camps where social distancing is unachievable, as is access to soap and water, the most basic preventive measure against the disease.
Add to that the stigma, discrimination, and xenophobia endured by migrants that continue to rise during the pandemic.
Even at this moment, with the world fixated on the pandemic, we cannot afford to put migration’s long-term causes on the back burner.
While the cost of responses may cause concerns, the cost of no decisions will certainly surpass that. There may be no clear, simple solution but having up-to-date evidence and data will surely help.
On World Environment Day (5 June), we were all encouraged to consider human interdependencies with nature.
Let us also acknowledge that water and climate-related disasters, ecological degradation, and other environmental burdens cause economic, health, and well-being disparities for migrants and populations living in vulnerable settings.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations University.
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