Environmental migration is like an unexploded ordnance: in the not too distant future, the entire planet will have to face the economic and social burden of its consequences. By 2050, one in 45 people will be an environmental migrant—200 million people in total.

This multi-chapter story focuses on this under-explored but looming issue. My research goal is to understand the personal narratives of this target population, to document and tell their stories using different media—photography, video and interview—in order to disclose the devastating social impact of environmentally-driven migration from rural to urban areas.

The chapter here focuses on Haiti. Haiti is one of the world’s most endangered places vis-a-vis climate change. According to the UN, as drought, cyclones, hurricanes, floods become more frequent, their impact will be amplified specifically in Haiti by the country’s existing environmental degradation (caused in large part due to the over-exploitation of its forest resources).

Indeed, Haiti is almost completely denuded of trees, making Haiti’s environment one of the most fragile in the world. This arboreal destruction has significantly reduced the land’s ability to absorb the effects of extreme weather events and manifestations of climate change.

The vulnerability of the country to natural disasters has also trigged waves of internal migration from rural to urban areas. In Port-au-Prince, the country’s capital and largest city, half of the residents were not born there. Despite the devastating earthquake in 2010 (that left well over 100,000 people dead), the overcrowded city continues to serve as the main destination for thousands of environmental migrants every year.

Four different contexts, but one narrative pattern: in every chapter, I compare the stories of people who struggle against environmental adversity. These people live in the most affected areas, in the poorest living conditions, packed into the booming slums of capital cities. This is ground zero for environmental migrants today—a situation which will only become more and more critical in the years to come.

—Alessandro Grassani


Editors’ Note: We first discovered Grassani’s work after he entered it in the LensCulture Earth Awards 2015. We are happy to see him continuing this immensely meaningful project.