Climate-related migration

“Listen to us! We know the problems, we know the priorities, and how to tackle them”

What are the main reasons for migration on the African continent? The African Union (AU) established three new specialized agencies for migration, among them the African Migration Observatory (AMO), which is focusing on data and knowledge. Director Dr. Namira Negm explains the consequences of the climate crisis for migration.   

Kerstin Lohse-Friedrich
Imago/Xinhua; Imago/Zuma wire; African Union Commission 2018
February 21, 2023
38 Mio.people in East Africa might move because of the climate crisis by 2050

The African continent is already hit hardest by climate change, while it’s the least among the emitters. The Horn of Africa continues to see a terrible drought, other regions have been flooded. But do governments across the continent pay the attention to the effects of climate change that are really needed?

In Africa, the awareness is increasing and continues to do so. Of course, we have many reports that had been issued across the globe on the climate crisis in Africa. However, until recently, both internal migration and displacement, and sometimes even mobility across borders or the continent have not been directly linked to climate change. Now, reports are coming out speaking clearly of a high share of migration that is related to climate change. Governments all around the world realize: people do move because of a changing climate. Let me give you some examples from the continent: When we have a sudden drought or a flood hitting an area you find thousands and sometimes millions of people moving. In Somalia alone, we have one million people internally displaced. Not because of the conflict in Somalia, but because of the drought in Somalia. So, this is something that came on top of the agenda.

In many countries in North Africa, it is either not raining, or a sudden and high amount of rainfall is causing problems. We have many vulnerable spots because of the rise in sea level, including the Delta in Egypt, where the sea level rise, sudden unexpected thunderstorms, and the decline in freshwater flow from the Nile, which is causing an alarming impact. The Delta hosts 50 million inhabitants. Hence part of the most fertile land agricultural land in the country is not good enough for agriculture anymore because of the salination. So, the farmers who used to work there, tend to go somewhere else, probably to urban cities, which causes further problems. 

In Senegal, again because of the rise in sea level and coastal erosion, people who are losing their jobs in the fishing communities will have to move inside the country and try to find jobs they are not qualified for. They have problems adapting to their new homes. So both, the host communities and the newcomers have challenges with these changing situations. This does already and will cause problems for social cohesion in the countries. 

We're talking to

Ambassador Dr. Namira Negm

Since March 2022, Ambassador Dr. Namira Negm is Director of the African Migration Observatory in Rabat. In 2017, she became the first woman to assume responsibly of the Office of the Legal Counsel of the African Union. With a PhD in International Law from the University of London, the former Egyptian Ambassador to Rwanda has also worked as the Head of the Anti-Corruption Unit at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Egypt and the Legal Advisor to the Egyptian mission to the UN in New York.

You serve as Director of the African Migration Observatory at the African Union. What is its main purpose? And why has the AU prioritized the issue of (climate-related) migration? 

The African Union recently established three new specialized agencies for migration. I am directing the Migration Observatory in Rabat, focusing on data and knowledge. There are other two; one in Mali focusing on research and studies and one in Sudan focusing on operations. The AU realized that published data and studies on migration and their drivers lack coherence and they are not African-generated. Hence, credible data is needed to adopt the appropriate policies. This is crucial to identify the priorities to address the hotspots affected by climate change for example.

The objectives of the center are to work with Member States and Regional Economic Communities in Africa to generate credible data to feed into regional data hubs with the appropriate analysis needed to guide policymakers. This will contribute to adopting informed decisions that can be translated into programs to address the root causes and better plan to manage migration, especially climate mobility in the continent. So, the African states are aware of it. And within the African Union, we are highly aware of it.

30-40 Mio. people are talking about moving because of climate crisis in West Africa

The climate crisis is hitting communities hard, and as you said, many are forced to move or move to adapt. Where will people on the African continent move to in the coming years and how do countries prepare for this? 

The overall majority of migration, also as it relates to climate change, is and will be within and between African states. The multiple crises affecting people in many of our countries – the economic situation, the climate crisis, conflict, migration, and displacement are the result. Movement within national borders, constitutes the biggest number, the internally displaced persons (IDPs). And then they may cross borders. Internally displaced in the Horn of Africa amount to 18 million as we speak. Of course, there are many factors. There is not only climate change but also conflicts, such as in Ethiopia, where we have the highest number of internally displaced people. But we must recognize that a large share of overall displacement is happening because of climate change. 

So now what is it precisely that is needed to be done? 

First, to enhance our knowledge about the numbers, we are looking forward to the outcome of the Deep Dives conducted by the Africa Climate Mobility Initiative, which is a partnership of the African Union, the World Bank, and the UN system, which had already introduced key numbers, predictions, and recommendations for the African continent, that is worth studying. The Deep Dives will go to cities, rural areas, agricultural communities, and other grassroots communities to understand what is happening, what are the migration patterns in the hotpots, and where the people are migrating to. 

Also, the Initiative's work will do a thematic analysis in which women, youth, and many other groups will be the focus. This is crucial to understand who is most affected by the climate crisis in the community and understand the challenges they face and how to address their human rights. All this information that the Africa Climate Mobility Initiative and other initiatives by the Observatory are in need to be strengthened to understand the root causes of migration and try to propose possible solutions. 

Another key element is how we can better plan to save humans from being forced to move. When you ask most of the people on the grassroots level, they'll say ‘we don't want to migrate’. they don't want to leave their families or their homes. If they are living in good conditions, they will not leave. They leave out of desperation because of the problems they are facing. 

"The overall majority of migration, also as it relates to climate change, is and will be within and between African states."

Quote fromNamira Negm
Ein Mann läuft vor einem Sandstum in Dollow, Somalia

April 14, 2022, Dollow, Jubaland, Somalia: Ein Mann läuft vor einem Sandsturm in Dollow im Südwesten Somalias. Somalia ist eines der Länder, die am stärksten vom Klimawandel betroffen sind, und es wird erwartet, dass die Wetterextreme zunehmen werden.

What kind of effort by the Global North do you expect concerning climate-related mobility on the African continent? Could you give some examples of measures that could be taken to prevent people from being forced to move because of climate change? 

First, and most importantly, the Global North has to fulfill its responsibilities and drastically cut back on greenhouse gas emissions. Second, countries should honor their promises and fulfill pledges they made to the loss and damage fund, which was established at COP27. It will be important that funding can be easily accessed. At the same time, I always say listen to us. We know the problems, we know the priorities, and how to tackle them. Some countries will be able to turn an idea into a project and put it to the funding, others cannot do that. The countries of the Global North should try to assist the African countries in advancing their ideas and solutions by providing the resources and technology to establish early warning systems and adaptation plans among others. Doing so will also help to address climate-related migration.

You are a lawyer specializing in international law, served as an ambassador to Rwanda, and led the Anti-Corruption unit in Egypt's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. How do these experiences feed into your current work? 

Well, I would say once a lawyer, always a lawyer. But I think all these experiences together make me think out of the box. In my current position, I'm not looking into producing just new and more reports for policymakers to maybe look at the summary and then be ducked. I'm looking at reaching as many I can, partners, and governments in Africa to assist the latter in generating credible data. I am looking into how to conduct a practical analysis rather than a theoretical one to provide policy guidance to our Heads of State and Ministers to adopt informed decisions relating to migration policies. 

"The drivers for migration, including climate change, among others, have to be identified and analyzed in a harmonized manner to be credible and useful. And that is what I am aiming at."

Quote fromNamira Negm

You were the first woman in many positions that you held. Is there any special advice you give to young women? 

My advice to women who want to go to the international level is to fight stereotypes and never give up their dreams. This is the only thing I can say at this stage after years of experience. You face so many hurdles. You may face a lot of discrimination because you're a woman, because you have problems, because of whatever reason. At a certain point, forget about your gender. You are a professional. Focus on that aspect. And make sure that you have confidence in yourself. Because you do not lack anything from your other peers. You have a brain. You have a mind that you can use to reach your goals. The only thing is, to concentrate and work hard for your goals! 

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