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Popular Science: Climate change and migration – case study from small islands – more complicated than we thought

Maldives are islands in the Indian Ocean, where the impacts of climate change are already obvious. The islands lie just a few meters above sea level and face an increasing ocean surface, coastal erosion, change in the monsoon pattern and related rain. How do local inhabitants react to these changes? It was an objective for an international team of scientists, which was led by Robert Stojanov, a former member of the Department of Social Geography and Regional Development of our faculty. Robert Stojanov currently works at the Migration Policy Centre in the European University Institute in Florence, Italy.

Maldives are a suitable laboratory of the impact of climate change over the last decades. The archipelago is going through changes: natural, economic and social. A further rise of the sea-level could damage tourism, the most important part of the economy and engine of prosperity. Therefore, migration could be a possible reaction. Humans in general, and islanders in particular, migrate because of a few related reasons: environmental, social, educational and mainly economical.

Research was conducted in Malé, the capital city of the Maldives, and two neighbouring islands. The country is spread over hundreds of small tropical islands. Locals are trying to face the impacts with a wide mosaic of measures, including planting mangroves, building sea walls and the desalinization of sea water, but their opinions on migration as a next measure have differed even in past. This study shows that elites are concerned, elderly people are ready either to stay in their homes or respect the state order to move. On the contrary, younger people perceive migration as an opportunity.

Research among the citizens of Malé had two main questions: how do people perceive the impacts of climate change and whether migration is option for facing the changes. Furthermore, demographic and social-geographical characteristics were collected from 347 respondents.

Maledivy - stát a soustroví v Tichém oceánu. Zdroj: autoři článku. Maldives. Source: authors

The majority of citizens have had an experience with extreme weather. They recognize climate change as an important threat and 37% perceive those changes as a problem for the future. It is the most of all the mentioned threats, followed by unemployment, the crime rate and the political situation. Slightly less than half of the respondents admit that they will have to move when the sea-level rises.

Internal migration is determined by education, living conditions and mainly economic factors. Environmental factors are not so pronounced. In the case of emigration from the Maldives, the situation is similar, but environmental factors play a larger role. Education, living conditions (26%) and the environment (13%) were mentioned by respondents. Higher-educated people mentioned environmental factors more often. The most popular destinations are the closer Asian countries – Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India and then Australia.

The reasons for migration, economic and social individual motivations are in the majority, but the recognition of environmental ones is still stronger.

Stojanov, R. et al. (2017): Local perceptions of climate change impacts and migration patterns in Malé, Maldives. The Geographical Journal, Vol. 183, No. 4, pp. 370–385, doi: 10.1111/geoj.12177.

Tomáš Janík

Published: Aug 27, 2018 01:40 PM

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