Environmental change and migration

A review of West African case studies

Authored by: Victoria van der Land , Clemens Romankiewicz , Kees van der Geest

Routledge Handbook of Environmental Displacement and Migration

Print publication date:  March  2018
Online publication date:  March  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138194465
eBook ISBN: 9781315638843
Adobe ISBN:


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West Africa has been a prominent region for research on the linkages between environmental change and migration. To a large extent, this has been motivated by the great Sahel droughts of the 1970s and 1980s. Most studies start from the assumption that environmental factors, such as rising temperature, increasing rainfall variability, land degradation and periodical droughts, affect people’s livelihoods, particularly in rural areas. This chapter provides a review of case studies on the linkages between migration and environmental change in the region, with a focus on drylands. It illustrates that the concepts, methods and results applied differ considerably between the case studies and make it difficult to draw conclusions on the environment-migration nexus. This review shows that even from environmentally fragile areas, people have many different reasons to migrate, which often go beyond risk prevention and adaptation to environmental stress. Many studies find that environmental factors are often not the main driver of migration in the region; instead, individual characteristics, structural conditions, social determinants, better prospects or individual aspirations strongly influence migration decisions and patterns. Nevertheless, temporary migration is a well-established activity to diversify income and the financial support of the migrants is crucial for most households in rural areas. Permanent out-migration of entire households seems to be rare in the region.

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