03 Dec Droughts, livelihoods, and human migration in northern Ethiopia
Droughts, livelihoods, and human migration in northern Ethiopia
Regional Environmental Change
Vol (No), pp
Our study examines the effects of drought on livelihoods and human migration in the rural highlands of northern Ethiopia, one of the most affected regions during the 2015 drought. We conducted a household survey contextualized by focus group discussions in two rural sending areas. Drought intensity was similar in both areas, but drought impacts and farmer’s response strategies differed. Overall, we observed significant strategy changes, including a drastic shift from subsistence crop production to livestock sale among farmers being dependent on the March–June rainfall (belg season). Our results suggest that drought increases mobility, primarily through triggering short-term migration to closer destinations to cover immediate needs like food shortages. Four out of ten households in both regions engaged in migration. Nonetheless, migration tends to be context specific with respect to barriers and opportunities for participation, with distance, duration, and perceptions of migration as well as the underlying motives being region-specific. We conclude that understanding livelihood strategy changes requires an embedding in a larger context rather than focusing on one particular driver. Migration—one important livelihood strategy in northern Ethiopia—is the result of a complex interplay of factors, drought perhaps being only one of them. Based on our finding, we reason the decision to migrate is strongly moderated by the drought rather than it is directly driven by it.