Labour Migration as an Adaptation of Climate Change: Health Implications, by Aline Philibert

In Africa, climate change is expected to amplify the intensity and frequency of drought or flooding (1), whose uncertainty makes increasingly difficult to predict fluctuations in crop yield and livestock feeding resources. For subsistence agriculture that continues today in large parts of rural Africa, uncertainty of food supply may, in the absence of well-functioning credit or an efficient food provision system, put households at risk for food insecurity. As a result, many people have chosen to diversify their livelihoods both occupationally and geographically rather than to invest in sustainable agriculture (2).

Recognized as an alternative coping strategy to climate change, labor migration became an opportunity to compensate for crop failures and uncertainties in livestock productivity by offering a shelter against risks of income shocks (2). While for the most part migrants remain internal and seasonal, there is a significant and growing phenomenon of international migration (3). Seasonal migration is a significant component of the economic life of rural dwellers, which are most dependent on rain-fed subsistence. Seasonal migrants are mainly men who leave to work elsewhere outside the crop-growing season (4). This usually disrupts the familiar unit and raises the workload on the shoulder of women, resulting in maternal and neonatal health issues (3). With the new window of opportunities offered by urbanization and mining sector, men are less likely to return home during crop-growing season (3). Urbanization, which first concerns men and eventually the whole family, maybe a health hazard with poor overcrowding housing, unhealthy and hazardous locations, and social exclusion (6). Lack of safe water supply increases the probability of epidemics propagation in urban areas (7). At the same time urbanization in low-income countries may increase access to health facilities and encourage health-seeking behavior (8). The increasing demand for minerals worldwide has encouraged the mining activities as a mean to supplement agriculture income. Those activities are often linked with neurocognitive and physical injuries, respiratory diseases and epidemics (HIV-AIDS & TB) (9). Cultural loss, violence, alcoholism and prostitution are other issues raised by the mining activities (8).

Seen as an adaptive strategy to alleviate health deficits posed by climate change, labor migration maybe also a source of human suffering and adverse health outcomes.


By Aline Philibert

References :

(1)IPCC, 2013: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S. K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, US1 (Armah et al. 2010).


(2)Armah, F. A., Obiri, S., Yawson, D. O., Onumah, E. E., Yengoh, G. T., Afrifa, E. K. et al. (2010) Anthropogenic sources and environmentally relevant concentrations of heavy metals in surface water of a mining district in Ghana: a multivariate statistical approach. Journal of Environmental Science and Health, Part A, Toxic/Hazardous Substances & Environmental Engineering 45,1804-1813.


(3) Philibert A, Tourigny C, Coulibaly A, Fournier P. (2013). Birth seasonality as a response to a changing rural environment (Kayes region, Mali).Journal of Biosciences, 45(4):547-65. doi: 10.1017/S0021932012000703.


(4)Agadjanian, V., Yabiku, S. T. & Cau, B. (2011) Men’s migration and women’s fertility in rural Mozambique. Demography 48, 1029–1048.


(5) Brodie Ramin (2009). Slums, climate change and human health in sub-Saharan Africa. Bulletin of the World Health Organization 2009;87:886-886. doi: 10.2471/BLT.09.073445


(6) United Nations Human Settlements Programme (2003). The challenge of slums: global report on human settlements. London: Earthscan Publications.


(7) Patel RB, Burke T. (2009). Urbanization – an emerging humanitarian disaster. N England Journal of Medicine 2009; 361: 741-3 doi: 10.1056/NEJMp0810878 pmid: 19692687.


(8) Philibert A., Ravit M., Dumont A., Bonnet E., Dossa I., Ridde V. Maternal and neonatal health impact of Obstetrical Risk Insurance scheme in Mauritania: a controlled before-and-after study. Journal of Health policy planning (under review).


(9) Philibert A. and Chan H.M. A systematic review of environmental health research on impacts of mining on health and wellbeing of Indigenous Peoples (under preparation).


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