Dealing with the Water-Migration Nexus

Dealing with the Water-Migration Nexus

This year, the United Nations observed International Migrants Day (18 December), which carries a clear message from the Secretary General- to tackle migration within the purview of economic growth, opportunities, and communities’ resilience. It calls for migration to be better regulated so it should not deepen divisions within and between societies, provoke exploitation and abuse, or undermine peace and political stability.

On International Migrants Day, let us take the path provided by the Global Compact: to make migration work for all.
         – António Guterres

Another note from the UN reiterates that climate change, demographics, instability, and growing inequalities trigger migration, and effective, international cooperation in managing migration is pertinent.

Water and climate crisis scenarios are impacting lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable, the economy, political stability as well as the future of millions of people, especially in regions and communities where resource-based living is central to the sustainability of the population. Water crisis events have negatively affected agrarian production, infrastructure, water food and energy security, economic and development agendas and it also triggered vast misery to individuals. Recent development reports showcase the perils of droughts, floods, and extreme events and direct influences decision to migrate, either temporary, seasonal or permanent (particularly individuals and communities living in vulnerable situations).

UNU-INWEH, in collaboration with McMaster University, hosted a ‘Water and Climate Dialogue Series’ on 13 December. The session and research presentations focused on unpacking multiple facets of the water-migration nexus. The keynote address was delivered by Mr Ruhiza Jean Boroto, Senior Land and Water Officer at FAO, talking on ‘The Global Framework on Water Scarcity in Agriculture’ (WASAG). The presentation highlighted that the framework explicitly adopts the agenda of human migration within the context of water scarcity scenarios. He also shared highlights of the report, ‘Water stress and human migration: a global, georeferenced review of empirical research’ emphasising that water stress undermines societies, and livelihood systems, in turn, inducing new patterns of human migration. As drought, long dry spells, irrigation water shortages, changing seasonality and weather extreme are increasing water stress, human migration is a spillover impact. It is interesting to note how some countries declared water scarcity and drought as an emergency, while others struggle with the excess of unwanted water.

UNU-INWEH researchers then presented on the various dimensions of water and sustainability, including aspects of human mobility trends and patterns. Ms Jana Gheuens, while focusing on the Small Island Developing States (SIDS), Disaster Risk Reduction and Water Security shared how climate extreme events and water crisis scenarios cause loss of livelihood and economic opportunity, often serving as a trigger for the people (mostly, youth) to migrate in search of a secure life. Ms Yurissa Varela presented on the impact of water on migration, focusing specifically on the Central American migrant caravan camping at the US-Mexico border, wherein she witnessed firsthand (on her trip to Veracruz, Mexico, in November 2018) the plight of migrants, mostly women and girls. She shared the high points of her interactions with some of the individuals that held water pollution from mining responsible, as well as general lack of water provisioning services in the region as a contributor for their decision to migrate. Yurissa shared that she wrote a story, “Between two words” for the “Mygration Story” series on UNU-MERIT’s website.

Overall, the discussions reiterated that the water-migration interlinks are becoming increasingly evident, global populations and communities are enduring a severe crisis, thousands and millions are forced to displace from their place of origin (home), and the footprint of water in the human displacement is a significant one!

Dealing with the multifaceted nexus of human migration is challenging, and even more challenging when it is intertwined with water crisis scenarios. Whilst, the global agencies and experts are exploring how nature rooted drivers influence human migration, the recent milestone in the global migration discourse – the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. This is good news! This people-centred collective agenda is rooted in human rights and aims to address the challenges of migration and is supported by membership of the United Nations. The anticipation that it will provide prospect for stronger action on effective management of migration in centres of origin, transit, and destination, seeds hope for peace, geopolitical stability and, hopefully positive acknowledgement of migration.

UNU-INWEH is focusing on the water-migration nexus challenges within the ongoing project ‘Water Security and Nexus’.

Nidhi Nagabhatla
Senior Researcher: Water and Ecosystems
Capacity Building Coordinator