Climate Refugees

A climate refugee is a person that has been displaced from their home due to the effects of climate change on their environment. Changes in the environment force people to leave, because it can cause wars and hunger as a result of a lack of resources. There are currently 64 million climate refugees around the world. By 2050, this number may increase to between 25 million and 1 billion.


Several countries in Africa are suffering from the effects of climate change. Many people are being forcibly displaced due to changes in their environmental conditions.

There are four main reasons why environmental changes have a large impact on migration in Africa. Firstly, Africa as a continent is very dependent on natural resources. Secondly, it has poor infrastructure to protect itself from climate disasters. For example, flood defences designed to prevent water overflowing a river bank are rare and ineffective. Thirdly, businesses, government and public services in Africa have not adapted to climate change. Finally, high levels of poverty makes it harder for people to recover from climate disasters. 


The Sahel Belt is a useful example of how environmental change can lead to devastating effects. People in some countries in the Sahel Belt (like Northern Niger, Chad, Niger and Mali) are being forcibly displaced due to higher temperatures and catastrophic events. For example, in 2012, more than 6 million people in North-Eastern Nigeria were forced to become refugees due to floods and more than 500,000 were displaced in Chad. 

The main environmental cause of their displacement is the lower water levels in Lake Chad. Lake Chad has shrunk by 90% since the 1960s. The dramatic level of water reduction means that 7 million people are currently food insecure. These people don’t receive enough nutrition because fishing and farming are dependent on water levels. Since most of the population is dependent on agriculture it is easy to understand how the environmental destruction impacts communities. 


Many climate refugees also come from Somaliland. Frequent droughts have meant that people can no longer make a living on agriculture (such as farming goats, sheep, camels, or growing crops such as maize, sorghum and beans). These people are forced from their homes due to lack of certainty on growing seasons, extreme weather events and lack of water. These changes all happen due to climate change. 

After Cyclone Sugar in May 2018 and a poor rainy season in 2018 and 2019, Nasra Ismai, director of the Somalia NGO group said “We were caught by surprise how quickly this drought has returned. The time for people to recover has been halved and has been continuing to decrease every single season. Ultimately, it’s a climate crisis.” 


The term “climate refugee” is rarely seen. Climate change needs to be recognised as a cause of forced migration. With the number of migrants expected to increase in the future, it is important to understand their situation and do something about it. 



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