Claim: Migrant caravan shows the destabilizing effect of climate change – ‘We must recognize the caravan as a byproduct of climate change’
BY TIM LYDON
Unfortunately, almost no one is talking about climate change, a root cause of the migration. Similar to California’s Camp Fire and recent severe hurricanes, we must recognize the caravan as a byproduct of climate change and a small preview of humanitarian crises to come.
Similar to the U.S., climate change impacts vary across the Central American landscape. The Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters shows increases in extreme heat, drought and floods in the region in recent decades, and the World Bank predicts continuing outmigration due to diminishing water for irrigation and other factors. In an acute example linked to the migrant caravan, since 2014 persistent extreme drought has decimated crops in the region’s Dry Corridor, leaving at least 2 million people vulnerable to hunger.
It’s important to acknowledge other factors also affecting regional food shortages, including land devaluation from trade agreements, pesticides, and coffee market instability. But the deepening role of climate-related drought is undeniable.
The migrant caravan showcases how climate change becomes enmeshed — and often lost — in complex humanitarian problems.
Honduran migrants don’t simply pack up one day and head to the U.S. Instead, as Dry Corridor crops fail, rural residents often migrate first to nearby urban areas in search of work. The increasing population stresses already over-burdened housing, education, and other systems. It worsens violence, drugs, and corruption. Living amidst dwindling hope, families eventually make the perilous decision to flee to the U.S.
This insidious capacity to worsen existing problems has long been a concern of the U.S. Department of Defense, which labels climate change a serious national security threat. It’s been a consistent military assessment since the George W. Bush administration and is echoed by the International Organization for Migration, the World Bank, the Government Accountability Office, and the Department of Homeland Security.
We have already seen how climate change contributes to humanitarian disasters. Evidence suggests it helped ignite the war in Syria, where extreme drought beginning in 2006 withered crops and drove people to cities already swollen with Iraqi refugees and political discontent. The war added to a migration crisis that still strains Europe. It is also evident in today’s calamity in Yemen, where water scarcity is a key issue and Save the Children estimates 85,000 children have died for lack of food. As with the caravan, the root causes of war are complex, but we cannot ignore evidence that climate plays a role.
Tim Lydon has worked on the public lands in the West and Alaska for three decades, in both commercial guiding and federal lands management. His is the author of “Passage to Alaska, Two Months Sea Kayaking the Inside Passage.” Follow him @TimLydonAK.