February 26, 2024

A new study published in Earth’s Future found that drought is driving people living in rural settlements in Africa closer to rivers and cities. The study, titled “Drought and Human Mobility in Africa,” conducted by researchers from Sweden’s Uppsala University and Italy’s University of Bologna, analyzed human settlements in Africa and found that drought drove migration in 80% of African countries. This migration is expected to intensify as climate change leads to more severe and frequent droughts.

The study warns that this large-scale drought-driven migration leaves more people vulnerable to deadly flooding events. People tend to move close to rivers for access to water for agricultural activity and to cities for diverse economic opportunities when drought makes agriculture too difficult.

The researchers used satellite-based nighttime light detection to track settlements moving toward rivers during drought conditions, as well as annual, country-based World Bank census data to track urban populations.

The study found that drought-related migration towards rivers and urban areas was particularly strong in Southern Africa, with every country studied in the region experiencing such migration over the study period.

The researchers emphasize that human mobility and migration are important strategies for climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. They highlight the need for policy makers to have access to data and detailed information in order to implement strategic planning and support sustainable development in vulnerable areas. Additionally, they stress the importance of providing opportunities for people living in vulnerable areas to move to safer locations.

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