The number of international migrants, as well as that of internally displaced persons, is steadily increasing in Latin America, as shown by data from institutions such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) or the Observatory of displaced persons (IDMC). in English).
At the international level in the region, the millions of Venezuelans who continue to escape each year from the totalitarian regime which governs them stand out; an exodus which has already reached 4 million in recent years.
At the same time, we highlight the hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans who, over the past two years, have traveled the north on foot, trying to leave behind a life of poverty. Internally, Colombia continues to dominate, with the annual record of more than 100,000 displaced people fleeing the country’s endemic conflicts.
Likewise, internal displacement in Mexico is increasing due to the violence associated with drug trafficking.
Thus, over the decades, conflicts and the constant abandonment of the countryside by the authorities have already pushed millions of people in Latin America from rural to urban areas. Large cities in the region are often the final destination.
But today, there is a more powerful force behind people moving from rural to urban areas: the harsh climate, a consequence of climate change.
As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) points out, Latin America and the Caribbean are one of the regions most affected by global warming. Its effects translate into increased frequency and intensity of hurricanes, storms and floods, as well as more droughts and fires.
These phenomena are moving more and more people, both within and between Latin American countries.
According to IDMC data, in 2018 alone, natural disasters caused nearly 20 million people to be displaced worldwide, including nearly two million in our region. A number that exceeds that of any armed conflict, including the Colombian conflict, or political, including the Venezuelan.
In fact, natural disasters have overcome conflict and violence as a cause of displacement for years.
In addition to the disasters whose impact makes the headlines, climate change also translates into a gradual degradation of the environment, which is slower but also devastating, and which has also become a force for displacement.
Examples include human mobilizations like the Great Migrant Caravan, joined by hundreds of thousands of Central Americans who migrate north precisely to escape recurring droughts in their countries of origin.
However, global warming has become not only one of the main causes of large-scale human displacement, but also a determining factor in global urbanization.
This is revealed by analysis of high-resolution data on climate, natural disasters and population location, such as that carried out in a scientific study recently published in the Journal of Economic Geography.
The study clearly shows the importance of changing climatic conditions in understanding recent urbanization around the world. A rapid and unregulated urbanization in which a large part of the “climate-displaced” ends up in the big cities of each country.
A phenomenon which, in developing countries, results in cities not only larger but also more fragmented, where those who arrive are generally located in growing suburbs, disconnected from employment poles and in precarious living conditions .
In absolute figures, and again according to the IDMC, the Latin American countries with the highest number of climate-displaced persons in 2018 were Brazil (87 thousand displaced people, the majority associated with deforestation), Colombia (67 thousand, the majority due to floods) and Cuba (52,000 due to storms and hurricanes).
In 2019, the number tripled in Brazil, reaching 295,000 climate-displaced people. In Paraguay, 54,000 people have been displaced recently, and in Bolivia, 77,000 have been displaced due to the distortions in rainfall patterns associated with El Niño-Niña, fires and the activity of the Ubinas volcano.
In 2020, the figures (not yet consolidated) show similar figures.
Thus, the impact of climate change adds to a long history of migratory waves in the region and only exacerbates the challenge of displacement associated with conflict, violence and neglect in rural areas. One more reason why the issue is already a political priority.
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Translation by Maria Isabel Santos Lima