The complex intersection of environmental migration and COVID-19

The complex intersection of environmental migration and COVID-19


Nearly 1,900 natural disasters caused 24.9 million new displacements in 2019. According to the UN, even if we manage to greatly decrease global CO2 emissions because of COVID-19 mobility restrictions, the decrease will only be temporary. Some experts think that short term policies adopted during a pandemic cannot transform long-term climate change processes: the only way to have an impact on climate change is through coordinated whole-of-government actions. In the case of environmental migration, we can therefore expect that not only will there not be any reduction in natural disasters, but there will be even more added repercussions due to the pandemic.

How does environmental migration intersect with COVID-19?


1. Climate change will not stop for COVID-19 and it must be tackled as part of post-pandemic socioeconomic recovery

Climate change and related extreme weather events such as cyclones and floods already pose an obstacle to the COVID-19 response, as has been the case in Vanuatu and India. Mobility restrictions during the pandemic response create even more logistic challenges for getting help and medical assistance to areas that already suffer from a lack of access to services and basic resources.

Even if some reductions to atmospheric pollution have been observed due to restrictions on economic activity, climate action requires mitigation and adaptation measures to be sustained for the long term. Populations already vulnerable to the impacts of climate change will also be particularly impacted by epidemics and pandemics, including, for example, small island developing nations, which are already experiencing the most immediate effects of climate change, and which are already being impacted by COVID-19 in terms of food insecurity, a fall in tourism, and labour migration, as well as the remittances that these countries could receive in the coming years. It is important that post-pandemic reconstruction plans are aligned with climate action to avoid the worsening of global warming.

2. Pandemic-related mobility restrictions can make it more difficult for people to flee from natural disasters

In the face of natural disasters, people often need to flee their homes and communities for their own security. Checkpoints and border-closures related to epidemics and pandemics can make it difficult for people to escape danger. Countries need to start preparing for possible environmental risks and implementing risk-reduction strategies, especially in regions that are vulnerable to recurring threats such as hurricanes, flooding, and landslides, according to the UN. It has advised that “should disasters such as typhoons, earthquakes or wildfires strike during the COVID-19 pandemic, mobility restrictions will hamper effective emergency assistance.”

New displacement of people could facilitate the transmission of illnesses because physical distancing is often impossible during evacuations or displacement settings. Restrictions on movement can also prevent people from being able to return to their countries or communities of origin, despite the fact that many have lost their livelihoods to the pandemic, natural disasters, or other causes.

3. People displaced by disasters are significantly more vulnerable in terms of health and socioeconomic impacts of pandemics

According to IOM’s analytical snapshots, “hospitals already overwhelmed by COVID19 may not be

able to take care of those affected by disasters.” Similarly, difficult living and working conditions can make it difficult to access clean drinking water and follow good hygiene practices. They can also make it hard to self-isolate or adhere to a quarantine as advised by public health officials.

As well, displaced people may stay in shelters, camps, or with relatives, sometimes for years. In all of these situations, they can be more susceptible to illnesses, including COVID-19, due to overcrowding, lack of hygiene, and lack of information and health services accessible to migrants. Displaced populations can experience health problems during the period of their displacement and may lack the means to ensure continuity of care for pre-existing medical conditions that increase a risk of complications, such as hypertension, diabetes, cancer, and malnutrition.

4. Long-term solutions are critical for internal migrants in overpopulated informal settlements

In many countries around the world, urbanization is caused by environmental degradation and the depletion of livelihoods in rural areas. Internal migrants often settle in informal, unsanitary, or crowded areas, where they have an increased risk of contracting illnesses and have less access to basic services such as testing and medical care for COVID-19. There may be limited options to stop the spread of COVID-19 if it arrives in informal settlements, which makes it even more urgent for governments to implement long-term solutions for internal migrants, for example, by giving them access to universal health coverage. This reflects a persistent need to address the causes of inequality and the prevalence of risk, which are aggravated by the pandemic.

How will COVID-19 affect the achievement of the goals of the 2030 Agenda?

How will COVID-19 affect the achievement of the goals of the 2030 Agenda?
Categoria: Migration Governance
Autor: Laura Thompson


There is no doubt that the current pandemic has a broad humanitarian, social and economic impact in the short, medium and long term, which in turn may affect or delay the achievement of many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at different levels and in various ways.

The most evident impact, obviously, is on Goal 3, which seeks to guarantee a healthy life and promote well-being. The pandemic has put enormous pressures on health systems not only in relation to the treatment and management of the virus, but also affecting the ability to care for patients who have other diseases and increasing the risk of complications in populations with compromised health states. The pandemic has given greater visibility to the importance of universal access to health systems regardless of people's migratory status. However, the pandemic will also have implications for other aspects of the 2030 Agenda.


Impacts beyond health

COVID-19 is also having a negative impact on the employment, economic and social situation of many households around the world, and on their ability to meet their needs, even the most basic ones. The economic crisis that the countries of the region are facing and the growing unemployment will be decisive in this regard, since apart from the pandemic, Latin America and the Caribbean reached an unemployment rate of 8.1% at the end of 2019, according to the International Labor Organization. And according to ECLAC projections, labor unemployment will rise to 11.5% in the same region, as a result of the contraction of economic activity by COVID-19.

Unemployment and the loss of purchasing power affect more severely migrant populations, since they are very often employed in the informal sector of the economy and have more precarious contractual working conditions, particularly women migrant workers. In the case of Latin America and the Caribbean, informal work engages around 50% of the total number of people employed. The increase in unemployment will impact the scope of Goal 8 (on full and productive employment and decent work for all), but also Goal 1 (the fight against poverty), Goal 2 (the eradication of hunger, food security and better nutrition), Goal 5 (gender equality and empowerment of women and girls), and targets 5.2, 8.7 and 16.2, on trafficking and exploitation of people. ECLAC also emphasizes that Latin America and the Caribbean is already suffering a fall of -5.3% in GDP, the worst in its history.

Likewise, this pandemic could accentuate existing inequalities in societies, as well as the vulnerabilities of certain population groups, and consequently delay the achievement of Goal 10, which seeks to reduce inequalities between and within countries. In this context, migrants are one of those vulnerable groups that have been particularly affected by the pandemic and that are often left behind or forgotten in social protection and economic relaunch plans, or have limited access to them, either because of language barriers or because of their immigration status. All of this despite the enormous contribution that migrant workers make to the operation of essential basic services in many countries, as has become evident during this crisis.

Additionally, a decrease in the amount of international remittances is projected, which, according to the World Bank, would be reduced between 10% and 19.3% by 2020. Remittances are a fundamental component in the economy of some countries in the region, where they can amount to between 5% and 20% of the national Gross Domestic Product. A significant reduction in remittances would jeopardize the ability of many households in those countries to meet their most basic needs and their ability to invest in improving nutrition, education, and reducing child labor, among others, further emphasizing existing inequalities.

Finally, at the state level, due to the economic slowdown we are experiencing and urgent health needs, it is very likely that there will be a decrease in social spending or a reorientation of available resources, potentially at the expense of the more comprehensive vision contained in the Sustainable Development Goals, again affecting the scope of the transversal objectives of the 2030 Agenda.


Recovery and SDGs: the same path

But this should not lead us to pessimism and to think that we have lost the fight to achieve the SDGs. On the contrary, it is essential at this time to work together and forcefully to identify the additional difficulties that the current pandemic presents in achieving the 2030 Agenda. We must redouble our commitment and our efforts to ensure that the impact of the pandemic is incorporated into national plans and international assistance, as well as that the different realities and vulnerabilities of some specific groups are incorporated.

For this we must work from now on to ensure the universal attention of the health and education systems; in reducing remittance transfer costs (a topic included in Goal 10), as El Salvador is already doing, creating more resilient and inclusive cities in line with Goal 11 or strengthening forms of regular migration for migrant workers and decent working conditions (Goal 8).

The time is now: all organizations, governments and individuals have an important role in ensuring that the efforts for our Latin American region and the world to recover from the serious effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are aligned with the 2030 Agenda and that we make sure we do not leave anyone behind.