25/01/2019 1:38 PM IST

Why Climate Change Is Adding To The Number Of Migrants Seeking Asylum

In countries such as Tunisia, Libya and Yemen, and Syria conflict led to civil war, forcing migration.

Marko Djurica / Reuters

A new study has established a link between how climate change is causing wars and in turn migration, and a rise in the number of those seeking asylum outside their home countries.

Carried out by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria and published in the journal Global Environmental Change, the study found that climate change played a significant role in people leaving their home cities and countries and seeking refuge between 2011 and 2015, with more severe droughts leading to conflict and civil wars.

Researchers found that under specific circumstances, climate conditions led to increased migration, but indirectly, through causing conflict. This was particularly true for West Asian countries

Dr Raya Muttarak of University of East Anglia’s School of International Development, one of the authors of the study, told HuffPost India over email, “We found the effects in many middle-eastern countries including Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey and Iran.”

This phenomenon was particularly relevant in Syria, the study found. Long-running droughts and water shortages caused by climate change resulted in repeated crop failures, with rural families eventually moving to urban areas. This led to overcrowding, unemployment and political unrest, and then civil war. Such patterns, according to the researchers, were also found in sub-Saharan Africa during the same time period.

In countries such as Tunisia, Libya and Yemen, and Syria conflict led to civil war, forcing migration.

Muttarak said, “For the factors underlying conflict, we also considered the level of democracy, experience of past conflicts and ethnic polarisation. For the drivers of migration, we also consider distance between origin and destination countries, GDP in destination countries, colonial link between origin and destination countries, the level of democracy, population size at origin and destination and the level of migration in origin and destination countries.”

The researchers said that the kind of governance mattered a lot. Co-author Jesus Crespo Cuaresma, of IIASA and Vienna University of Economics and Business, said, “Climate change will not cause conflict and subsequent asylum-seeking flows everywhere. But in a context of poor governance and a medium level of democracy, severe climate conditions can create conflict over scarce resources.”

The researchers say the link between climate change and migration were not explicit, and they were not treated as interrelated and that further research was needed to understand the relation between the two.

Muttarak told HuffPost India, “We think the research has to focus on looking at the mechanisms through which climate change may influence migration. For example, through failure in agriculture production, change in income and so on. In our case, since we specifically look at asylum seekers flows, we capture the link between climate and migration through conflict.”

The United Nations and the World Bank have already warned that climate change could lead to large-scale migration of populations and food insecurity.

In March 2018, a World Bank group report had found that worsening climate change could see more than 140 million people move within their countries’ borders by 2050. The study was conducted in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America.

On World Food Day 2017, UN Migration Director General William Lacy Swing had said, “Climate action is paramount. Climate change is having far-reaching effects on agricultural productivity and food security. It is among the main reasons for the record numbers of people compelled to migrate from rural areas to towns and cities around the world. Importantly, the Paris Climate Change Agreement recognizes the need to protect vulnerable populations, including migrants, and establishes a dedicated task force to advance strategies that avert, minimize and address displacement related to climate change.”