Environmental degradation and population flows


Journal Article


Suhrke, A.


Environmental degradation and population flows




Journal of International Affairs

Vol (No), pp

47, 473-496


So-called “environmental refugees” have made their appearance in the academic literature and public discourse, accompanied by widely diverging definitions and predictions. Some scholars fear environmental degradation will produce “waves of environmental refugees” with destabilizing effects at home and abroad.(2) Much of the focus is on Africa, presumably the most vulnerable area, where, some argue, the general pressure of people on land and, in particular, deepening desertification have displaced millions of people and will displace more in years to come.(3)

This paper attempts to systematize the links between environmental degradation and population movements by addressing three basic questions: First, is environmental degradation a cause of population movements, or is it even possible to isolate and analyze the impact of the environmental factor? Second, what kinds of population flows are associated with environmental degradation? More specifically, do they correspond to common concepts of migrants and refugees? Third, what are appropriate strategies of response to deal with the problems that may result?

This paper will discuss only environmental degradation in the developing world. The consequences of environmental change are particularly severe — and the problems most acute — in poor agricultural communities, where production system are heavily dependent on natural cycles and means to insure against disasters are lacking.


Suhrke, A. (1994). Environmental degradation and population flows. Journal of International Affairs, 47, 473-496.