Meet the researchers: Climate change and migration
“Climate variability, drought for example, is nothing new or unexpected for the Middle East. The long-standing relationships between people and the land in this region are very complex,” begins Lina. While climate changes have pushed some people to migrate from rural agricultural areas to urban areas, it is not the single cause of migration. Lina explains, “Few Iraqi Kurdistan citizens leave rural areas due to drought impacts on agriculture, but instead most people migrate for other reasons such as, political environment, and the economy. Conflict has even caused some citizens to leave cities and seek safety in more rural areas.” Migration or displacement due to climate change can be difficult to pinpoint, and can be used as a scapegoat for governments. Lina exemplifies, “Many Syrian citizens rely heavily on agriculture and are vulnerable to climate change, but the reason they migrate might be insufficient policies or governmental support.”
Many parts of the Middle East also rely heavily on the drilling, production, and exportation of fossil fuels. Supplies of oil provide the region with economic stability, jobs, and trading leverage. “This reliance and interconnectedness makes reducing emissions and decarbonising the Middle Eastern economy very difficult,” explains Lina. There are additional barriers for the Middle East. These include, lack of government incentives to cut emissions, scarce or unreliable public transportation, cheap vehicles and perception of environmental problems as non-urgent. “With politics, conflict resolution, or economic well-being often being the top priorities for people in the Middle East, climate change is generally viewed as a luxury problem,” adds Lina.
Some of Lina’s recent research focuses on food and agriculture independence and analysing government support in the Middle East. “The Iraqi Kurdistan government wants increased food sovereignty, productivity, and local agriculture, so we will be using satellite images to monitor changes,” says Lina. “The Middle East relies heavily on profits from the fossil fuel industry to pay for imported food, and this makes the region vulnerable to food insecurity” adds Lina.
Lina is also studying the levels of vegetation in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey in order to evaluate governmental support for agriculture. “These regions have similar climates and precipitation, so comparing their agricultural trends and differences can show how governmental support is influencing farming practices.”
While the Middle East does face numerous political, agricultural, economic, and environmental challenges, there are regional projects having positive impacts. Lina mentions roof-top farming in Palestine as one success story. “Fruit that is often imported to this region can be very expensive; this project allows people to produce fruit locally and strengthen food security. This project is also providing young generations with skills and empowering local women, who are in charge of the roof-top farming,” states Lina. Iraq is also repairing important marsh lands that were previously destroyed and drained prior to 2003.
Lina adds, “Marshes that served as bird sanctuaries and food sources for fishermen are being restored, and people are returning to these areas.” There is even a growing bicycle initiative in Syria that is managed by local youth. “Streets and roads are being damaged and destroyed due to the ongoing civil conflict, so driving is difficult and biking has become an easier alternative way to travel. Many more bicycles are now being sold in the region,” explains Lina.
The Middle East is a very complex and diverse region, facing many challenges. Although climate change is one of the challenges, it is one of many. “Economic stability, human well-being, and food security are often prioritised above climate change. Other regions have more capacity and resources to focus on mitigating and adapting to climate change,” states Lina. The various examples of local initiatives display that even in areas with numerous challenges, people can still succeed in combatting climate change while simultaneously benefitting their communities.
Text: Jack Fraser