The challenge of environmental migration in Mesoamerica and the Caribbean


Throughout the last decade, the increasingly severe consequences of climate change have brought a number of challenges for the Mesoamerican and the Caribbean region. This has led to increased pressure on human displacement. We still do not fully understand the consequences, it is however crucial for the region’s future development to understand this development.

According to data published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) , there has been a significant increase in global average temperature over the last years. This development has a direct impact on the environments in which we as humans develop ourselves and carry out economic activities.

The Germanwatch Global Climate Risk Index 2016, sees countries from Central America and the Caribbean as those most affected in the last decade.

The North Atlantic Hurricane region crosses the Caribbean Antilles and the Central American Isthmus. At the same time as El Niño (high temperature anomaly) and La Niña (low temperatures anomaly) have intensified, the flood-drought cycles have affected large crop-growing areas by reducing its potential for habitability.

This has been particularly severe in countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, says the FAO Dry corridor - Situation report (June 2016). The levels of vulnerability in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama are also available in this report.

There are some islands off the coast of Panama that have been inhabited for over 150 years by the indigenous Guna Yala people that have disappeared due to rising sea levels. However, there are other islands in the Caribbean, such as Jamaica, that are highly concerned about erosion and salinization of their land, states the UNESCO Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS).

The Global Report on Internal Displacement 2016 shows clearly how these types of events force  the affected population to move to other places. Whether it is due to the climatic event itself or the impact it has on the economic resources for their livelihood. The exploratory study launched by Hunger without Borders, in collaboration with IOM, the Organization of American States (OAS), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the London School of Economics, is a first step in establishing the link between migration, hunger and violence in Central America. However, it remains a challenge to learn the details about the actual impact.

The Environmental Migration Portal was implemented by IOM within the project “Migration, Environment and Climate Change: Evidence for Policy” (MECLEP), which is funded by the European Union. This virtual platform promotes scientific research, the exchange of information and  constructive dialogue, in order to fill the current data gaps and the lack of knowledge or available studies about the migration-environment nexus.

More detailed research, as well as more coordination and closer cooperation between several stakeholders is required. to accurately define the true scale and nature of the efforts that must be carried out, in order to generate the required solutions to address the challenges of environmental migration.


Sobre el autor:

Francisco Masís Holdridge es Asistente Regional de Migración Laboral y Desarrollo Humano en la Oficina Regional para Centroamérica, Norteamérica y el Caribe de la OIM. Cuenta con una Maestría en Economía de la Universidad de Costa Rica y ha laborado como consultor para el Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo y organizaciones del sector privado (EKA Consultores, entre otras). Asimismo, tiene experiencia en el desarrollo y gestión de proyectos de innovación.


The missing link: using new data for migration governance

Autor: Guest Contributor

The lack of consistent data and collection techniques among countries inhibits the accurate identification of migration trends, as well as the impact that migration has on the institutional framework, economy and wellbeing of people in a country or region.

What are the challenges in migration data?

The first objective for the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration stresses the importance of investing in the collection and use of accurate data to conduct evidence-based policy-making.

However, due to lack of technical resources, human capacity and/or funding, many states share limitations in the systematic collection and management of migration data.

According to IOM’s Migration Data Portal, there is more data collected on topics like migrant stocks and remittances, whereas topics such as migration flows, smuggling, migrant health, integration and the impact of migration policies have significant data gaps.

Many developing states simply don’t have the capacity to collect and systematize data at a nationwide scale. For example, according to IOM’s regional report, all ten Commonwealth Caribbean countries have departments or offices dedicated to the development of statistical information, but Jamaica is the only country which has collected migration data that can be systematically disaggregated.

Disaggregated data is particularly valuable, allowing states and organizations to have information on people that is comparable by sex, age, migration status and other relevant characteristics. This way, needs for specific migrant groups like children or women can be made visible and addressed.

The gaps in migrant data can also be largely attributed to the lack of mechanisms that facilitate information sharing between different government agencies and organisms.

All countries maintain records on entries and exits, visas, and permits, but many of them implement different data collection and management practices. Thus, policies between and in states are sometimes incoherent, and countries must work with only patches of information, which restricts their ability to apply a holistic government approach to migration governance.

Amidst these challenges, countries and the international community continue to work towards effectively filling these gaps to attend peoples’ needs.

The promise of new data

In the past, the main method of collecting data was through traditional sources like household surveys, national censuses and administrative records. These sources have a high cost and limitations, like inflexible designs in surveys for example.

Today, new or innovative data sources such as geospatial data, satellite imagery, mobile device data and social media data are gaining momentum fast. These sources represent a huge opportunity given the increased availability of digital records, wider coverage, timeliness, and practically no limitations on how frequently the information can be updated.

The potential applications of new data for migration seem promising. Big data in particular can help anticipate migration trends and movements based on data from social media platforms like Facebook or even from online searches. This same data can also contribute to monitoring public opinion and media discourse on migration at a much lower cost than public surveys.

Nevertheless, the use of new data (especially big data) presents several challenges:

  • Ethical and privacy issues: Automatically generated data raises concerns about confidentiality, misuse and security risks such as surveillance. In the case of IOM, our Data Protection Manual outlines our principles and standards for data governance.
  • Information bias: Big data is inherently biased. Social media and mobile phone users naturally do not represent the entire population, since some segments are over-represented, while other segments don’t use or have access to technology due to factors such as age, sex and economic level. 
  • Technical challenges: Data held by private actors or government entities may be difficult to access or use due to security or legal reasons. One could also encounter weak security systems and inappropriate infrastructure for data collection and management. Additionally, technological change and innovation occur at a fast pace, leading to issues of data continuity.

The way we process and share information is changing, so it’s only responsible that we also work on integrating new and traditional methods with new ones, while improving expertise in new types of data, data analytics (such as machine learning) and use. For management and use, interagency coordination is key, as well as the collaboration with both private and public sectors to transform data into policies that impact real people’s lives and contribute to sustainable development.

Along this line, IOM is currently in the process of implementing a project financed by the International Development Fund (IDF) to strengthen the institutional capacities for migration through the development of a migration information system that will allow Mesoamerican and Caribbean countries to have data on migration relevant for the design of migration policies. 

One of the main activities of this project consists of creating a Regional Network for the development of a Virtual Information Platform for Migration Governance (VIPMG). This Network will work on the exchange of migratory information (records of international arrivals and departures, residences, returns and other administrative data), as well as strengthening coordination and information flows between countries.

This platform aims to include preliminary statistics and analytics of administrative data to provide decision-makers with evidence-based information to support policy-making, thus assisting in improving data management capacities in order to use administrative data to its full potential, and provide information to monitor the Sustainable Development Goals related to migration.

The Northern Triangle Migration Information Initiative (NTMI) also aims to fill gaps in data migration(such as data on returning migrants and registration coverage) and enable informed decision-making, but is focused on populations in the Northern Triangle of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras). NTMI has generated reliable information on migration, displacement and its relationship with development for its stakeholders in the region. 

Other resources:

IOM’s Migration Data Portal:

IOM’s Migration Information and Data Analysis System (MIDAS):

UN Global Working Group (GWG) on Big Data for Official Statistics:

IOM report, More than numbers: How data can have real impact on migration governance

 Northern Triangle Migration Information Initiative (NTMI) project (Gestión de Información de Movilidad Humana en el Triángulo Norte):