Cause behind African migrant flood has terrifying implications for the world

April 21, 2015
Italian coastguard and Armed Forces of Malta personnel in protective clothing carry the body of a dead immigrant off the ship Bruno Gregoretti in Senglea

Italian coastguard and Armed Forces of Malta personnel in protective clothing carry the body of a dead immigrant off the ship Bruno Gregoretti in Senglea, in Valletta’s Grand Harbour, April 20, 2015. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

The migrant crisis in the Mediterranean is symptomatic of deep dislocation in the Sahel region and sub-Saharan Africa — dislocation exacerbated by climate change.

Climate change is affecting such basic environmental conditions as rainfall patterns and temperatures and is contributing to more frequent natural disasters like floods and droughts. Over the long term, these changing conditions can undermine the rural livelihoods of farming, herding and fishing. The resulting rural dislocation is a factor in people’s decisions to migrate.

Migratory decisions are complex, of course, and nobody would argue that climate change is the only factor driving them. But climate change cannot be ignored. The second-order effects of climate change — undermined agriculture and competition for water and food resources — can contribute to instability and to higher numbers of migrants.

These are the conclusions of our regional report on Northwest Africa, published in 2012, which examined the root causes of tragedies like that of the drowning deaths of up to 700 migrants attempting to reach Europe by boat via the Mediterranean. We found that underlying climate and demographic trends can squeeze the margins of life at the family and community levels, contribute to decisions to migrate, heighten conflicts over basic resources and threaten state structures and regional stability. We also found that climate challenges, longstanding migratory routes and security concerns are linked to the Maghreb, the Sahel region and the Niger Delta in compelling ways.

In northwest Africa, climate change will exacerbate difficulties in areas already facing numerous environmental and developmental challenges. Overall, up to 250 million people in Africa are projected to suffer from water and food insecurity in the 21st century. In the Sahel region, three-quarters of rain-fed arable land will be greatly affected by climate change. Droughts and flooding are already more frequent in Niger and northern Nigeria, along with temperature rises that jeopardize crucial rural activities.

The Niger River faces diminishing flows of roughly 10 percent, which numerous new dam projects will only worsen. If current water consumption trends continue, withdrawals from the Niger basin will increase sixfold by 2025, with profound implications for Nigeria. Lake Chad, which supports 25 million people, is drying up and is one-twentieth of its size in 1960. Northern Algeria, home to most of the country’s population and agriculture, may see rainfall reductions of 10 percent to 20 percent by 2025. Rainfall in Morocco is expected to decrease by 20 percent by the end of the century.

And as previously mentioned, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa are tied together by longstanding and well-established migratory routes. As early as 2011, research indicated that about 65,000 migrants passed through Agadez, Niger, on their way north to Algeria, Morocco and Europe each year. As climate change takes a toll on farming, herding and fishing, undermining livelihoods and contributing to decisions to migrate, these numbers could grow larger.

Nigeria is losing more than 1,350 square miles of land to desertification each year, a pace that may increase with climate change. With 70 percent of Nigeria’s population reliant on agriculture for its livelihood, and 90 percent of Niger’s workforce reliant on rain-fed agriculture, desertification represents a fundamental threat to rural life. Indeed, the line at which rainfall maintains sufficient groundwater for farming has been shifting south in recent years, according to United Nations reports.

These are not the abstract complaints of climate scientists; this is profoundly disruptive in a region dependent on agriculture. In Niger, frequent droughts have impoverished many and contributed to migration. When faced with deteriorating conditions, humans have long turned to migration; it is a basic adaptive mechanism.

And these trends in combination with rapid projected population growth throughout the Sahel region and West Africa are increasing the strain on the countries along this migratory route. Niger has the world’s second-highest fertility rate, with a median age of just 15 years, and its population is expected to quadruple in the next century. Nigeria’s population, meanwhile, is expected to double by 2040. Population growth increases the strain on already scarce natural resources like water, land and food and further contributes to migratory decisions.

Any effort to address the migrant tragedy playing out in the Mediterranean must address and incorporate these deeper-root causes. Though the warning signs have long been evident, policymakers still tend to focus on the symptoms rather than the causes.


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Posted by nikon101 | Report as abusive

A boat sinks and hundreds die. Climate Change is the first culprit?


Posted by EndlessIke | Report as abusive

Migrants such as these have no land, no water, no sanitation, no money, no skills, and no education. Their choice to reproduce at a rate that would make a rabbit blush make their very presence an ever increasingly disgruntled threat to any functioning society, country or planet. They only produce feces, urine and babys for others to feed, clothe and shelter.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

Having thousands of AFrican immigrants is terrifying. Imagine all the cries of “RACISM!!!” when they don’t get what they want.

Posted by LetBalanceCome | Report as abusive

Jihadists are literally chasing these people into the sea. This has nothing to do with Europe or global warming. And even if the resources in Africa really are as scarce as the writer claims (they are not), then the locals there need to take responsibility for their own destinies by NOT quadrupling their population there over the next century, as predicted. They are exceeding the carrying capacity of their habitat. This is not rocket science. Condoms, condoms, condoms.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

You would almost think there was a Global Warming beanfest coming up in Paris in Decem,ber.

Posted by CraigKing | Report as abusive

Endlessike, OneOfTheSheep, LetBalanceCome, AlkalineState,

You not only lack compassion, but also an understanding of science, education, social activity, that man as a homo sapien acts and responds to its environment as any other animal, and that as a civil society man has a responsibility to be a good care taker.

Posted by Flash1022 | Report as abusive


Being a good caretaker means NOT allowing ourselves turning our big blue marble into a big brown marble.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

“man as a homo sapien acts and responds to its environment as any other animal.”

Correct. And do you know what animals do when competitors from another biological community move in on their territory? Usually eat the competitors or run them off. So be careful what you aspire to. That’s nasty.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

OneOfTheSheep, AlkalineState,

You guys grew up with too much negativity, and might assume never had a course in the sciences and philosophy.

We can take care of people without turning the planet brown.

I can say this since I am in the energy conservation and renewable energy field.

It is a matter of managing people and the earths resources.

Particularly, when people react primitively, as a civilized community we do not all become animals, but respond as that civilized community with dignity.

Posted by Flash1022 | Report as abusive

This is not an ecological problem. This is the same old problem of mixing males and religion. They compete to see who can be the craziest. Throw in some camera phones and machetes into the mix, and you have an ISIS/Boko Haram/Al Shabaab nut show chasing decent people into the sea.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

So far, nobody has mentioned Muammar Gaddafi, the dictator of the previous government of Libya. Libya is the North African country that is nearest to Europe across the Mediterranean Sea. Most African migrants would travel to Libya, and Muammar Gaddafi’s government would stop them from crossing the Mediterranean and would send many of the migrants back to where they came from. European governments paid Gaddafi to do that.

Gaddafi was the secret friend of many governments – until he wasn’t.

Posted by nose2066 | Report as abusive

The rainbow flag of LGBT is a stolen African symbol of unity correct ? Therefore, what Africa needs is a fringe, preppy gay revolution to control its population and resources. Imagine millions of whiny, oversexed Nigerian men sipping red bull, taking Viagra, discussing money and fashion. Blissfully peaceful.

Posted by ozium | Report as abusive

This article, by two authors who’s backgrounds are not specified, represents one of the more transparently vile attempts to blame [presumably man-made] “climate change” for a humanitarian disaster that is caused by entirely different and unrelated factors.

Reality check: there has been no statistically significant global warming since December, 1996 -so that can not be the cause of “climate change”. Even the IPCC has clearly stated that there is no basis in the data and our understanding of the science to link “global warming / climate change” and purported increases in both frequency and intensity in weather events. There simply is no verifiable empirical data that supports the contention, no matter Mr Obama’s Earth Day professions.

Note to the Reuters Editor: who are the authors and what is their affiliation? Reuters should be considerably more diligent in verifying who sends them ill informed, contentious, propagandistic opinion pieces.

Posted by tetris | Report as abusive

As a follow-on, I now understand that both authors are working for the Center for American Progress, a Democrat Leftwing think tank.

Trusting these gentlemen to provide a reasoned and fact based view on anything relating to “climate change” is akin to trusting the Pope to do likewise on the Immaculate Conception. Dogma is after all dogma.

Posted by tetris | Report as abusive

Over-population is never mentioned. All of Africa and the middle east have birth rates soaring and economies stagnant or declining.

Will the media tackle the tough questions? Or will they reach for politically correct angles? I think we know the answer.

Posted by GetReel | Report as abusive

Let me make a note of that. Reuters publishes absolute lies. I won’t forget.

Posted by tradingdaze | Report as abusive

Let me make a note of that. Reuters publishes absolute lies. I won’t forget.

Posted by tradingdaze | Report as abusive

“dislocation exacerbated by climate change.”

Oh please spare us all. The “migration” is due to brutal Islamofacism wrecking havoc over all of Africa and the Middle East.

Next thing we know the climate scientists will be attributing climate change as the cause of gout.

The earth was temporarily warming due to a short term increase in solar activity from around the 1930’s until 2007. Since 2007 the sun’s activity has diminished significantly. Hence the increased frequency and intensity of winter storms throughout the northern hemisphere.

Posted by norcalguy101 | Report as abusive

What a steaming load of dung! The reason the migrants are coming is because those that have already arrived have not been sent back.

The Reuters editorial board is not too stupid to know this, so this article can only be a deliberate lie.

Posted by WolfmanJack | Report as abusive

Next we will hear the climate scientists claim the earthquakes in Nepal are due to global warming.

Posted by norcalguy101 | Report as abusive

Hey Reutuers, CBS 60 Minutes this evening is only making this opinion piece look more foolish.

Just sayin’.

Posted by norcalguy101 | Report as abusive