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Water Shocks: wetlands and human migration in the Sahel

This report calls attention to the worsening condition of wetlands in the Sahel and explains how this decline is undermining human well-being and compelling people to migrate, including to Europe. The rivers, lakes, floodplains and deltas of the Sahel are highly productive and biologically diverse ecosystems, fed by seasonal floods.

These dynamic wetlands have long shaped human culture and been the basis for local and regional economies. Tens of millions of people still depend on their vitality. But these natural assets are degrading, often due to ill-advised economic development projects which divert water resources.

Consequently, some wetlands have ceased to be a refuge in hard times and have instead become sources of out-migration, as people look elsewhere for alternative livelihoods.

Our purpose of this report is to highlight to policymakers the relationships between the health of wetland ecosystems, management of water resources and human migration in the Sahel region of Africa. We believe these links are under-explored and poorly recognised. From a literature review, gathering of cases and interviews across the region, we have identified this as a serious knowledge gap which has potentially devastating impacts, both on the wetlands and for the humans who depend on them most directly –
the region’s tens of millions of rural poor.

We acknowledge that there are many different causes of human migration. Myriad inter-relations may play out according to local
circumstances. We do not seek to claim that degradation of wetlands is necessarily the most important or root cause of involuntary human migration in the Sahel. But we do argue that it is a cause that deserves much greater recognition and attention.