Experts Join Hands to Tackle Environmental Migration in East and Horn of Africa Region

Natalie Topa from the Danish Refugee Council delivering a presentation to the working group.

Nairobi – Climate change is a reality in the East and Horn of Africa (EHoA) region where erratic rains and rising temperatures combined with large-scale environmental degradation and poor land management practices are leading to crop and livestock losses, forcing many to leave their homes. In 2018 alone, droughts and floods displaced almost 1.5 million people in the region, according to research conducted by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).

Looking ahead, if environmental regeneration is not prioritised, the projections for future climate impacts are also grim: The EHoA region could have tens of millions of climate migrants by the end of the 21st century. Water scarcity is a severe problem in this region, caused by changing precipitation patterns, water lost in run-off and poor water management. Increasingly frequent droughts impact negatively on the livelihoods of vulnerable groups such as small-holding farmers and herders, threatening lives, spurring migration and sparking conflict. The EHoA is also having to contend with large numbers of returning migrants, particularly from Libya and Saudi Arabia. Many of these returnees are vulnerable young people with limited livelihood options.

In an attempt to attend to the environmental and climatic pressures in the region, a new inter-agency working group has been launched by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UN Environment (UNEP) in Nairobi. Its objective is to provide a platform for innovative and coordinated action between UN agencies and other key stakeholders, with the aim of addressing the challenges arising from the nexus between environment, climate change, migration and displacement in the region. The working group is made up of representatives from key agencies, organizations, consortiums and academic stakeholders working on the climate crisis, sharing ideas, good practices and lessons-learnt.

Already, since its inception on the 10th of May 2019, the working group has hosted speakers from IGAD, the Norwegian Refugee Council, the Global Water Partnership and the Danish Refugee Council. 

Among its first guests was Charles Obila from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), who welcomed the creation of the working group, saying: “The group is needed very much, as IGAD’s main mandate is to convene Member States to promote dialogue, but for this dialogue to make sense it is better if it is supported by technical inputs from the UN and other agencies working on issues affecting the region.”

Sarah King, a representative from the Norwegian Refugee Council, also remarked on the appropriateness of this working group stating, “This working group is a timely addition to the regional level coordination functions in East Africa, as both humanitarian and development actors seek ways to mitigate and find durable solutions to displacement and forced migration in an environmentally fragile context. Leading up to the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030), greater collaboration and sharing about what works to maintain essential ecosystem services, strengthen livelihoods and build resilience to shocks through stronger natural resource management is essential.”  

The recent meeting held on the 20th of August 2019, focused on averting forced migration by boosting the resilience and adaptive capacities of affected communities in a sustainable way. Among the areas discussed by the working group were nature-based solutions to stemming environmental degradation such as; afforestation, water resource management and permaculture. Natalie Topa from the Danish Refugee Council emphasized that “Agroecology is the only solution for climate action in East Africa. We must restructure landscapes to regenerate indigenous biodiversity and heal the land. This is the only way forward as there is no economy without a healthy ecology.”

For more information, please visit the Environmental Migration Portal or contact: Lisa Lim Ah Ken, IOM Regional Migration Environment and Climate Change Thematic Specialist, at: