Expert Warns of Growing Wave of Mexican Environmental Refugees


We are always a bit wary of the term "environmental refugee" because people's reasons for leaving their homes are often very complex and the amount of scientific research on the topic is still quite minimal. But there is a growing chorus, especially from the field of anthropology, of scholars concerned by the role the environment -- particularly climate change -- plays in forcing people out of their homelands. One of Mexico's most outspoken voices on the subject of environmental refugees is Úrsula Oswald Spring, who chairs the United Nations University's Institute for Environment and Human Security. In a recent presentation in Mexico City, Spring described how desertification, the lack of a good farming policy and the lack of motivation to combat global warming have accelerated the wave of environmental refugees in Mexico.

Spring noted that at least half of the one million Mexicans that migrate to the big cities or the United States each year do so because of poverty and environmental factors. Erosion, salinization and low prices for agricultural products not only make them vulnerable in terms of food security, but also destroy what they have to subsist on, she said."I think that every year there will be more refugees from environmental causes though the people will express it in economic terms," said Spring. "They'll say 'I don't have enough to eat, I don't have land to plant on.' These will be their most immediate expressions, but behind them will be a very complex and delicate environmental theme."

Experts are also increasingly concerned by the vulnerability of citizens to natural disasters, and how natural disasters can also create waves of environmental refugees. According to the National Center for Disaster Prevention, 39.6 million Mexicans live in zones of high and very high risk of disaster, near the ocean, ravines, slopes or riverbeds. :: Via Planeta Azul (Spanish link)

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