Drought And Desertification

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The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts increased water shortages in Africa (74 to 250 million people affected in 2020) and Asia. Case studies, however, bring to light a contrasting picture of the consequences for migrations of these kinds of evolutions. The effect of a lack of drinking and irrigation water on migration is actually less sudden than that of hurricanes and floods, and it only generates progressive departures. On one hand, there are many well-known cases of mass population departures following droughts, in particular in Africa (Sahel, Ethiopia) with an impressive figure of one million displaced persons during the drought in Niger in 1985, but also in South America (Argentina, Brazil), in the Middle East (Syria, Iran), in central Asia, and in southern Asia.

On the other hand, many researchers strongly rela-tivize the possible direct link existing between drought and emigration by highlighting the fact that the latter, in general, is the last resort when all other survival strategies have been exhausted. For example, during the 1994 drought in Bangladesh, only 0.4 percent of households had to resort to emigration. Other researchers hold views similar to that of Nobel Prize winner for Economics, Amartya Sen, in remarking that famines are, in general, only marginally the direct result of environmental factors, but much rather political ones and add that this also holds for migrations. In certain contexts, the effect can even be inversed. This was the case in Mali during the drought of the mid-1980s: a reduction in international emigration was observed due to the lack of available means to finance the journey. Forecasts of increased migrations linked to drought-related phenomena remain hazardous. Consequently, it would be difficult to put a figure on the magnitude of populations at risk and the eventual migrations arising from global warming-induced droughts.

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