Decent Rural Employment

World Water Forum: Promoting resilient rural livelihoods at the nexus of climate, migration and water


Migration, if planned and well managed, can play a key role in improving the adaptive capacity of rural households and can support the development of climate-smart agricultural practices. Integrating migration considerations into climate and rural development policy and action is an important first step towards addressing the adverse drivers of migration and harnessing its benefits for climate change adaptation. This was the message FAO delivered at the 9th World Water Forum in Dakar.

The Forum, organized by the World Water Council, was held in Dakar, Senegal, from 21 to 26 March 2022, focused on the theme "Water Security for Peace and Development" and attracted around 5,000 participants. The session "Are water deficits and extreme events increasing migration and displacement?," organized by FAO, engaged country representatives, policy makers, UN organisations, civil society and academics from a variety of geographic settings and disciplinary backgrounds in an animated, evidence-based discussion about the links between climate change, water and migration in the context of rural agricultural livelihoods.

Mr. Eugène Rurangwa, Land and Water Officer at FAO's Sub-regional Office for West Africa, chaired the session, with a panel featuring Ms. Hind Aïssaoui Benani, Migration, Environment and Climate Change Specialist at the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Mr. Luca Parodi, Regional Specialist on Early Action-Early Warning at FAO, Mr. Kensuke Fukushi, Academic Programme Advisor at the United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS), and Ms. Sarah Rosengaertner, Senior Advisor at the Africa Climate Mobility Initiative (ACMI). A brief statement was also delivered by a youth representative, Ms. Sinafekesh Girma Wolde on behalf of the World Youth Parliament for Water.

Globally, 1.2 billion people live in agricultural areas and experience very high levels of water stress or very high drought frequency. Around 11 percent of total cropland and 14 percent of pastureland are subject to recurring droughts, and more than 60 percent of irrigated cropland is highly water-stressed (FAO, 2020). There is also growing evidence that water scarcity, changes in precipitation patterns and extreme events such as droughts, combined with socioeconomic vulnerabilities are contributing to migration and displacement. For example, floods and droughts made up around half of the 30 million weather-related displacements during 2020 (IDMC, 2021).

The World Water Forum session organized by FAO provided an opportunity to share the latest research on the links between climate change, water and migration in the context of rural livelihoods, in order to support evidence-based policies, programmes and investments towards more effective migration governance.

Evidence presented by session speakers highlighted that climate change as well as other factors – such as demographic change, growth-focused policies and processes of economic integration into the global market system – are shaping water use and management in the context of agriculture and contribute to new migration and displacement. Climate change also disrupts traditional migration patterns, such as seasonal migration or the migration of transhumant and nomadic pastoralist groups, creating competition and even conflict between populations that have previously shared resources. However, if well managed, migration has the potential to support climate change adaptation; it provides an opportunity to diversify incomes, reduce vulnerability and increase resilience among rural households.

FAO works with rural communities to address the adverse drivers of migration in order to ensure that migration is a choice rather than necessity. FAO helps rural communities, including women and youth, to better manage climate-related risks and hazards, promotes the sustainable use and management of resources and helps create climate-resilient livelihoods and decent work opportunities in rural areas.

Where migration has taken place, FAO recognizes that migration has the potential to contribute to strengthening the adaptive capacity of rural populations and can support building long-term resilience to climate change. In particular, FAO promotes diaspora engagement, encourages the transfer of social remittances (e.g. skills, knowledge, practices, and technologies), and promotes the investment of financial remittances into agribusiness. For example, in Uganda, FAO has been working with the diaspora to leverage skills and facilitate investment into agribusiness and agri-food systems. The Organization aims to tap into this potential and also facilitate diaspora investment specifically into climate-smart agricultural practices.

At a policy level, FAO advocates for safe, regular and orderly migration and works with policy actors at national and sub-national levels to promote policy dialogue and facilitate coordination between relevant sectoral policies. FAO promotes the integration of migration into climate change and agricultural policies and encourages evidence-based migration governance that recognises and harnesses the role and benefits of migration for adaptation.

Read more about FAO's work on the climate change, migration and rural livelihoods nexus.

In addition, the following upcoming resources will be available later this year on this website:

  • A two-lesson e-learning course on climate change and migration – due for release in April 2022.
  • A review of empirical evidence on Climate change, migration and rural adaptation in the Near East and North Africa (NENA) region – due for release in May 2022.
  • A Global guide and toolkit on integrating migration from a rural livelihoods perspective into National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) and Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) - due for release by the end of 2022.