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Ecological dimension of internal migration and displacement

31 August 2012

Flooding in Haiti. Photo credits: policyinnovations.org

Mariel de Jesus

In a conference hosted by Jesuit institutes and universities from the Philippines and Europe, four thematics were increasingly seen as the drivers of internal migration: livelihood, resource tenure, vulnerability to environmental risk, and conflict.

Ecology is seen as a critical dimension and a cross-cutting issue in the discussion of migration and displacement.  Livelihood potential continues to be a significant pull factor for migration.  Natural-resource dependent communities seek better opportunities for livelihood, as well as secure resource tenure.  The impact of climate change is also felt, as communities contend with the threat of extreme weather events, as well as the more long-term challenge posed by sea-level rise.  Additionally, people are faced with tough decisions in terms of moving their homes away from areas with high-risks of natural hazards.

Jesuit universities and organizations are exploring ways to engage with the issues of internally displaced peoples (IDPs) through academic research and community-based response.  Internal migration is a multi-dimensional issue, and a wide range of tools and perspectives are needed to address it.

The activities of the Jesuit Refugee Services in Asia Pacific show that effective response to internal migration must go far beyond simply social welfare.  Where aid and relief organizations often try to deal with IDPs on the basis of “band-aid” solutions, they fail to recognize the capacity of IDPs themselves.  Internal migration is the result of complex decision-making on the part of the IDPs. In cases where evacuation is forced due to natural disaster, displaced people must grapple with decisions about where to go and what to do next.

Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro, in the Philippines, faced first-hand the needs of displaced people when Typhoon Sendong devastated communities living along the Cagayan River last year.  The university established a relocation site in a safe area, but now realizes that it must deal with other challenges, such as ensuring access to livelihoods.  Far from being a final solution, relocation was only the first step in a long process of recovery and rehabilitation.

Conference on internal migration and displacement, with European and Philippine Jesuit institutes and universities. Photo credits: ESSC

The conference provided an initial orientation to this complex phenomenon, and the academics and practitioners in attendance agreed that migration should be given more prominence in the global research agenda.  Apart from the research however, there is also a need to give attention and focus to more effectively responding to the needs of displaced people, particularly to reduce their vulnerability and increase their resilience and adaptive capacity.

“Seeking Out Security: Understanding the factors affecting the movement of people” was the title of the three-day conference held last May 2012 in Davao City, Philippines.  The Institute of Environmental Science for Social Change organized the conference, in partnership with the Ateneo de Davao University-Tropical Institute for Climate Studies.  The event was also co-organized by European partners: the Geography Department of the Facultes Universitaires Notre Dame De La Paix-Namur and supported by Commission universitaire pour le Developpement of the Belgian government.

Ms Mariel de Jesus is with the Environmental Science for Social Change, a Jesuit research organization in the Philippines, and she assists in the development of the ecological agenda of the JCAP Task Force on Ecology and its communication.

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One Response to Ecological dimension of internal migration and displacement

  1. Anne Jacobsen on 4 January 2013 at 8:54 pm

    Hello and thank you for this article. So-called environmentally induced migration is multi-level problem. According to Essam El-Hinnawi definition form 1985 environmental refugees are those people who have been forced to leave their traditional habitat, temporarily or permanently, because of a marked environmental disruption (natural or triggered by people) that jeopardised their existence and/or seriously affected the quality of their life. The fundamental distinction between `environmental migrants` and `environmental refugees` is a standpoint of contemporsry studies in EDPs.

    According to Bogumil Terminski it seems reasonable to distinguish the general category of environmental migrants from the more specific (subordinate to it) category of environmentally-induced displaced people.

    According to Norman Myers environmental refugees are “people who can no longer gain a secure livelihood in their homelands because of drought, soil erosion, desertification, deforestation and other environmental problems, together with associated problems of population pressures and profound poverty”.

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