The environment-migration nexus reconsidered : why capabilities and aspirations matter

  • This thesis develops a conceptual framework for a better understanding of the impact of slow-onset climate and environmental changes on human migration in developing countries. Its regional focus is on the West African Sahel, where the majority of the population depends on agriculture and thus is highly vulnerable to environmental changes. Migration from fragile environments is predominantly considered one of several household strategies to adapt to and minimise the risk of environmental stress. Based on qualitative and quantitative data from two selected rural study areas, Bandiagara in Mali and Linguère in Senegal, this thesis analyses the drivers of migration from the two areas. The findings illustrate that, even though people highly depend on the natural environment, migration motives are manifold and that migration often is not a household strategy to cope with environmental changes. Although environmental conditions shape migration in the region and the migrants’ support is crucial for most households, environmental stress plays a relatively small role as a driver of migration - at least in Mali, where it is considerably less important than in Senegal. On the contrary, migration is often driven by better opportunities elsewhere rather than by livelihood stressors in the home area. Particularly the migration of young people is often an individual rather than a household decision and influenced by individual aspirations, such as aspirations for consumer goods or a better future, rather than by environmental stress. This thesis claims that research should consider people’s capabilities to migrate or to stay as well as their individual aspirations and preferences - in addition to the household’s needs and the opportunities elsewhere. This is important in order to explain why some people stay in and others migrate from an area affected by environmental stress, though living under similar conditions. Depending on people’s capabilities to choose freely between staying and migrating and their preferences and aspirations for one or the other activity, people can either be “voluntary migrants”, “voluntary non-migrants”, “forced migrants” or “trapped people”. Moreover, it is important to consider social trends and transformation processes in the analysis of the linkages between environment change and migration. Higher education levels and aspirations to a “modern” lifestyle among young people, for instance, might decrease the impact of environmental factors on migration, despite worsening environmental conditions.

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Author:Victoria van der Land
Referee:Uta RuppertGND, Diana HummelORCiDGND
Advisor:Diana Hummel
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Date of Publication (online):2016/04/29
Year of first Publication:2015
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Granting Institution:Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität
Date of final exam:2015/11/10
Release Date:2016/04/29
Tag:Climate change; Environment; Migration; Sahel; West Africa
Page Number:245
Institutes:Gesellschaftswissenschaften / Gesellschaftswissenschaften
Dewey Decimal Classification:3 Sozialwissenschaften / 36 Soziale Probleme, Sozialdienste / 360 Soziale Probleme und Sozialdienste; Verbände
Licence (German):License LogoDeutsches Urheberrecht