Economic or Environmental Migration? The Push Factors in Niger

This paper examines the question of whether humans migrate for purely economic or environmental reasons. Although it is known that both factors impact human behavior, the complex decision calculus of humans makes it complicated to ascertain dominant causes for migration. In Niger, the poorest country out of a list of 182 on the Human Development Index, several important environmental push factors impact life: droughts, soil degradation, the shrinking of Lake Chad, Niger River problems, deforestation, and sand intrusion. These push factors are caused by climate change, regional ecological features, and human activity in the area. The authors of the study concluded that economics was the mechanism through which environmental impacts were felt by migrants, prompting the recommendation of the term “environmentally induced economic migration” to refer to the situation in Niger. –Adriane Holter
Afifi, T., 2011. Economic or Environmental Migration? The Push Factors in Niger. International Migration published ahead of print May 19, 2011,doi:10.1111/j.1468-2435.2010.00644.x

          The sustainability of the environment is a security threat to the estimated 14 million people who live in Niger, because they rely on stable ecological conditions to maintain their livelihoods. With an economy that relies on subsistence crops, livestock, and uranium deposits, Niger’s general population is at risk for destabilization due to rapid climate change. Studying the relationship between the environment, land, and the economy helps develop a more complete picture of the factors that contribute to migration in Niger.
          To study the ways in which economy and environment interact, the Niger researchers combined a study of declining conditions with questionnaires, interviews, and phone calls to experts and migrants in affected areas. For the questionnaires, researchers polled 60 migrant and 20 non-migrant persons in a 2008 field visit to the regions of Niamey and Tillabeeri. Respondents to the research questionnaires revealed that: 90% migrated in part to some environmental consideration, 70% expected future environmental problems to impact them, 50% would migrate for or are currently planning to leave their homes for environmental reasons, and 80% would return to their homes if environmental conditions allowed. Although many of the people the researchers studied did not initially indicate the environment as the main cause of their departure, further examination revealed that economic rationale for migration had a root in environmental issues. For instance, the dwindling water for farmers and herders near Lake Chad directly impacted their economic security and therefore supplied a possible reason for moving. Thus, the term “environmentally induced economic migration” becomes valuable for conceptualizing the real world impacts of climate change.
          Environmentally induced economic migration is a more permanent, uncontrollable situation than the historic cultural practice of seasonal migration in Niger. Furthermore, environmentally induced economic migration induces changes in social dynamics e.g. the organization of food source cooperatives and the selling of labor. Males in some regions depart during the dry season, leaving women and children to undertake the majority of work related to environmental problems. To help counter the social, economic, and security burdens of the people, the researchers recommended several courses of action including: development policies that prevent further environmental degradation, investment in the development of eco-friendly jobs, education campaigns for children and adults, emphasis on indigenous means of coping with environmental security threats, humanitarian aid for people living in abandoned regions, intensification and broadening of the President’s Programme, and increased attention to the re-integration programme started by IOM Niamey for migrants motivated by the environment. 

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