PERN co-Coordinator Susana Adamo presented the results of this cyberseminar
at the Environment, Forced Migration and Social Vulnerability
International Conference (EFMSV) from 9-11 October 2008 in Bonn, Germany (click
here for PDF). The conference was organized by the Institute for Environment
and Human Security of the United Nations University (UNU-EHS), in
partnership with the International Organization for Migrations (IOM), the
United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), the Munich Re Foundation
(MRF), the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), and
the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
Issues related to environmentally driven migration are at the core of the population-environment studies agenda. It is an interdisciplinary topic of interest for researchers in different fields and for policy makers, which has commanded only more attention because of the potential impacts of climate change. The identification of environmentally displaced people as migrants or refugees has become one of the major discussions in the migration and environment literature because of its potential political and policy implications. Still, there is no wide agreement on what constitutes an environmentally induced displacement, nor are there statistics available to assess the magnitude of the flows.
The overall purpose of the seminar will be to determine if there is consensus on the definitional issues as well as on the magnitude of flows, and what the evidence shows from regional studies regarding the relative weight of environmental versus other factors in displacing populations. It will examine the evidence for significant population displacements from areas deemed to be environmentally degraded or excessively hazard-prone. It will also review evidence for migration out of metropolitan areas or industrial zones owing to air pollution or health concerns. We will in particular focus on the type and demographic features of these migratory streams: family or individual moves, age and sex profile of migrants, social and economic characteristics, probability of return, and length of stay at the destination. The cyberseminar will also consider potential future population displacements as a result of climate change, in particular changes in rainfall patterns and sea-level rise, which some have claimed will dwarf all contemporary population movements.
Additional topics that will be raised during this seminar include:
Different environmental events and different types of flows. Both non-forced migration flows and refugee-like situations have been linked to environmental migration. Intensity of the environmental hazard, its duration, the intensity of the response, and its timing are interrelated. The distinction between slow onset (e.g. drought, famine) events and rapid onset (e.g., flooding) events is particularly relevant because the implications for population displacements are very different.
Attribution of displacement to environmental factors: one of the main issues in considering environmentally displaced populations is that environmental processes cannot be easily isolated from the social, economic and political processes in which they are embedded. The distinction between environmentally and economically induced migrations from areas in which the natural resource base has been gradually eroded over many years by slow degradation processes (land erosion, deforestation, desertification etc.) may need to be better defined, the question being how far economic migrations from rural areas can be construed as strictly economic.
Household decision-making processes or community-level predisposing factors that lead to the decision to leave an area, and how such movements affect the sending areas.
The differing characteristics of population displacements in high and low income countries. Are the relocations from hazard-prone areas, such as from the hillsides of Honduras after Hurricane Mitch and the city of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, qualitatively different?
The data requirements for better understanding at-risk populations. There has been recent attention to the need for greater data development and improved methods for assessing vulnerable populations. Could better population data in advance of environmental events reduce the magnitude of population displacements?
Technical support for
PERN is provided by the NASA-funded
Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC)
at the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN)
of Columbia University.