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move with the climate

Herdsmen from Kenya who migrated from the village to the city due to drought, began to suffer new vulnerabilities such as floods and negative attitudes

The children of the Maasai tribe herd the cattle. Illustration:
Maasai children herd the family herd. Illustration:

Climate change is leading to migration all over the world. They include rising temperatures, droughts and floods, causing environmental disasters and harming living conditions. This trend is expected to continue, increase the number of immigrants and become a social and political challenge at the political, regional and international level.

Dr. Amit Tobi from the Department of Geography at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, deals with the connection between climate change and society, economy and politics. His research focuses on the vulnerability of populations to climate changes, even extreme ones, the way they adapt to them and deal with them, the connection between climate change and environmental change and social conflicts (for example over resources such as water and pasture) as well as the loss of culture, values, landscapes, sources of income and security. "Society is the one that affects the climate," he says, "and therefore the term 'climate crisis' is fundamentally wrong and removes responsibility from us. We need to act to correct social and human behavior and not to correct the climate itself."

Dr. Tobi and his team wanted to test a prototype of climate migrants and their backgrounds. To this end, we examined 40 shepherds who migrated from northern Kenya - an arid region that relies on sheep and cattle grazing - to Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, in search of work (internal climate migration, from the village to the city). This is due to two severe and prolonged droughts, in 2010 and 2016, which caused the death of their herds. Contact with them was made through the Kenyan Agency for Form Management and the researchers interviewed them with the help of an interpreter in meetings that lasted about two hours. Most of them left their village and their family in 2011, worked in the city as property guards and have been living in Nairobi for many years. Among other things, they were asked to what extent they were able to financially support their family and their children's education before and after immigrating and restore their sources of livelihood (for example, buying more cattle), and what their aspirations are for the future.

From their answers it was possible to understand that even after a long time in Nairobi, they managed to send only a small amount to their family - for basic needs such as food, clothes and education, and that they are mainly concerned with daily survival and did not save enough to restore their livelihoods. Some of them even finally returned to their home in the north of the country penniless. In addition, we noted that they suffer from loneliness and disconnection from the community, new risks (such as robberies), cold, floods and sickness (Nairobi is higher and colder than northern Kenya). However, some noted that the migration also benefited them intellectually; For example, they opened a business that cannot be damaged by drought, learned to manage and understood the importance of education (state that they will not agree that their children will be shepherds and farmers and starve for bread), and discovered agricultural crops that are not damaged by drought (for example, corn varieties that ripen quickly).

In another study, which is still ongoing with the help of a research grant from the National Science Foundation, the researchers examine how climate migration affects the city. This study was conducted in Tanzania, in the city of Dar es Salaam which suffers from floods. "Climate change will intensify migration to cities for livelihood purposes, and we wanted to check whether this would exacerbate their vulnerability or reduce it (opinions on the subject are divided). The vulnerability may manifest itself in the burden of residents and floods in the slums and their inability to accommodate this due to shaky and insufficient infrastructure," explains Dr. Tobi.

The researchers interviewed about 35 decision makers such as city planners, politicians and environmentalists from Dar es Salaam about the relationship between immigration and the increase or decrease of floods in the city and other, more general issues (e.g. about economy and society). Some of the interviewees stated that the immigrants contribute to the increase of the floods because they settle in poor neighborhoods without infrastructure; There they build themselves concrete residential buildings in an unregulated manner, expand the neighborhoods, and the rains are not absorbed into the ground but flow over the surface and become floods. In addition, we noted that immigration creates crime and hostility due to not finding a job. Some of the interviewees stated that there should be information among the immigrants - passing on information about actions to reduce floods and a way of life that is not harmful to the environment. In addition, we noted that immigrants actually contribute to economic growth because they open businesses and pay taxes.

Says Dr. Tobi: "It is possible to understand from our research that the effects of climate migration - and in this case the transition from the village to the city - are both positive and negative. On the one hand, this immigration contributed to a kind of social-class advancement of the immigrants, and on the other hand, it changed the type of vulnerabilities from which they suffer. Thus, one type of injury (such as drought) was replaced by other injuries (such as floods and negative attitude from society). In our next studies, we hope that we will learn how to enhance the positive effects and reduce the negative ones."

Life itself:

Dr. Amit Tobi, 43, married with two children (3.5, 7), lives in Jerusalem. He grew up in Kibbutz Mabarot in Emek Hefer and has an agricultural background ("It's not just that I'm interested in the environmental aspect"). He doesn't have too much time for hobbies between work and children, but he hopes that will change.

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