Javascript is not activated in your browser. This website needs javascript activated to work properly.
You are here

Meet the researchers: Climate change and migration

How does weather and climate variability affect the Middle East in regards to migration, de-carbonisation, and food security? Post-Doctoral Researcher and teacher at Lund University Lina Eklund sheds light on complexities of the region and how projects are making a difference.
Lina Eklund
Lina Eklund

“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.

Marshland in the Middle East
Marshland in the Middle East

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.

roof-top farming
An example of roof-top farming.

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




Meet the researchers - Reflections on COP 21

King George Island, Antarctica. UN Photo/Eskinder

Read interviews by the Sustainability Forum journalist Jack Fraser, also a master student at iiiee, The Environmental Institute at Lund University.

He has met researchers from Lund University with different expert views on COP21 issues in Paris 2015.

Read all the interviews

Contact information

Lina Eklund,

Teacher and Researcher at Department of Physical Geography and Ecosystems Science

Researcher at Center for Middle Eastern Studies

Lund University

Email: lina [dot] eklund [at] nateko [dot] lu [dot] se

Telephone: +46 46 222 9609

Read more

Read more about Lina´s research, and also about some of the things mentioned in the interview:

Lina’s PhD Blog

Lina’s Publications

Urban Farming

An example of roof top gardening

Iraqi Marsh Restoration

Syria Bicycle Initiative

Latest news

12 October 2018
“The world can still achieve ambitious climate targets”
“The world can still achieve ambitious climate targets”
7 October 2018
Using AI to improve refugee integration
Using AI to improve refugee integration
17 September 2018
Organic farming methods favour pollinators
Organic farming methods favour pollinators
17 September 2018
Citizen activist movements can invigorate local politics
Citizen activist movements can invigorate local politics
5 September 2018
New Formas Project: Save the basin! A multiplayer game about water shortage
New Formas Project: Save the basin! A multiplayer game about water shortage

Lund University Sustainablity Forum
Sölvegatan 37
223 62 Lund

contact [at] sustainability [dot] lu [dot] se