Migration and Water: A Global Overview

Migration and Water: A Global Overview

Nagabhatla, N., Pouramin, P., Brahmbhatt, R., Fioret, C., Glickman, T., Newbold, K. B., Smakhtin, V., 2020. Water and Migration: A Global Overview. UNU-INWEH Report Series, Issue 10. United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, Hamilton, Canada.

Global migration has been increasing since the 1990s. People are forced to leave their homes in search of safety, a better livelihood, or for more economic opportunities. Environmental drivers of migration, such as land degradation, water pollution, or changing climate, are acting as stronger phenomena with time. As millions of people are exposed to multiple water crises, daily needs related to water quality, lack of provisioning, excess or shortage of water become vital for survival as well for livelihood support. In turn, the crisis can transform into conflict and act as a trigger for migration, both voluntary and forced, depending on the conditions. Current interventions related to migration, including funding to manage migration remain focused on response mechanisms, whereas an understanding of drivers or so-called ‘push factors’ of migration is limited. Accurate and well-documented evidence, as well as quantitative information on these phenomena, are either missing or under-reflected in the literature and policy discourse.

The report aims to start unpacking relationships between water and migration. The data used in this Report are collected from available public sources and reviewed in the context of water and climate. A three-dimensional (3D) framework is outlined for water-related migration assessment. The framework may be useful to aggerate water-related causes and consequences of migration and interpret them in various socioecological, socioeconomic, and sociopolitical settings. A case study
approach is adopted to illustrate the various applications of the framework to dynamics of migration in various geographic and hydrological scenarios. The case studies reflect on well-known examples of environmental and water degradation, but with a focus on displacement /migration and socioeconomic challenges that apply. The relevance of proxy measures such as the Global Conflict Risk Index, which helps quantify water and migration interconnections, is discussed in relation to geographic, political, environmental, and economic parameters.

The narratives presented in the Report also point to the existing governance mechanisms on migration, stating that they are fragmented. The report examines global agreements, institutions, and policies on migration to provide an aggerated outlook as to how international and inter-agency cooperation agreements and policies either reflected or are missing on water and climate crises as direct or indirect triggers to migration. Concerning this, the new directives related to migration governance, i.e., the New York Declaration and the Global Compact for Migration, are discussed. The Report recommends an enhanced focus on migration as an adaptation strategy to maximize the interconnectedness with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It calls for the migration discourse to look beyond from a preventative and problematic approach to a perspective emphasizing migration as a contributor towards achieving sustainable development, particularly SDGs 5, 6, 13, and 16 that aim strengthening capacities related to water, gender, climate, and institutions. Overall, the synthesis offers a global overview of water and migration for researchers and professionals engaged in migration-related work. For international agencies and government organizations and policymakers dealing with the assessment of and response to migration, the report aims to support the work on migration assessment and the implementation of the SDGs. The Report may serve as a public good towards understanding the drivers, impacts, and challenges of migration, for designing long-term solutions and for advancing migration management capabilities through improved knowledge and a pitch for consensus-building.