Environmental migrants: the last illusion.
Since 2008, for the first time in history, people living in cities have outpaced in numbers those living in rural areas. Climate change is a co-founding factor for the uncontrolled and alarming growth of cities across the globe. As a matter of fact, in developing countries, climate-induced internal migration from rural to urban areas is getting continuous over the last few decades. In 2010, the IOM stated that numbers of displaced people are expected to increase alongside with the frequency and severity of the natural disasters. The 2011 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction, issued by the United Nations, revealed that worldwide physical exposure to natural hazards has increased by 192% since 1970. Environmental migration springs when natural hazards hit areas – usually rural and remote ones- where income opportunities are already limited and uproot lives, assets, traditional livelihoods, pushing landless and poverty-stricken people to embark on a journey to the nearby cities in search of a better life. These cities are constantly struggling with rates of population growth far beyond their capacity to assimilate and provide newcomers with an adequate level of basic social services. Moreover, once migrants get there, because of their lack of resources, education and opportunities, their dream of a favourable future turns into the last of their illusions. Environmental migrants are expected to trigger a new humanitarian crisis in the next few decades with an UN estimation of 200 million climate-induced migrants across the world by 2050.
My project ‘Environmental migrants: the last illusion’ started in 2011. Up to the present three countries have been covered - Mongolia, Bangladesh and Kenya. Three different countries with three different environmental distresses: from the extreme cold of Mongolian steppes to the escalating desertification of African lands, passing through the vulnerable Bengali plains threaten by cyclones, river floods and sea level rise. Three different countries, but one single narrative pattern. By combining different media - still images, video and interviews – I set side by side the stories of those who are still fighting against a cruel, merciless and vengeful nature and those who have already crossed the gates of infernal cities, engaging in a new struggle against their own kind, in search of the last chance for survival. As in a hall of mirrors, the observer witnesses a double-framework (rural/urban) visual experience where ‘what will come next’ seems already been written.
MONGOLIA, ULAN BATOR
In 2010, during one of the harshest winters, more than 8 million sheep, cows, yaks and camels died in Mongolia. More than 20,000 herdsmen had no other choice but to migrate towards the Capital, Ulan Bator, which has doubled its population in the last 20 years.
In Ulan Bator, I told the stories of three families recently resettled in the Gher district – the main slum of the city – from the most isolated regions of Mongolia after losing their herds and livelihoods because of hard winters. In Arkhangai province, I’ve spent several days with the Tsamba’s, a family who fled from severe winter conditions, responsible for the death of half the family’s once 2.000 strong herd over the past three winters.
Kenya’s pastoral population has been among the hardest hit by climate change in Africa. Droughts and wars between different pastoral groups seeking pasture and water for their animals are pushing many Kenyans dreaming of a better future towards Nairobi. According to a 2009 UN-Habitat, in the last 20 years, the numbers of environmental migrants arrived to Nairobi increased from 26% to 74%.
In the district of Turkana (Kenya), I’ve witnessed the hard living conditions faced by the tribes of the area. They’ve lost most of their livestock and crops because of the recurrent droughts and famines. In such a resource-constrained setting, bloody tribal conflicts are sparking as communities fight for limited grazing land and water. This need for new sources of livelihood and fear of being involved in tribal conflicts forced many to leave their native lands to settle in the overpopulated slums of Nairobi.
Bangladesh is one of the countries more seriously affected by climate change. Dhaka, its capital, has a population of 14 million which is expected to increase to 50 million by 2050. Dhaka has over 300,000 newcomers entering the city each year. Many of them are environmental migrants.
In Dhaka I documented the stories of 5 families who, because of environmental issues, moved from rural areas to Kawran bazar and Korail, two of the biggest slums of the city. I also visited the poorest communities living in the districts of Dacope, Satkhira and Begherhat where people are used to face floods and cyclones and to live for several months a year under the water.