Climate change and its pivotal role in migration

Dear friends of Voces y Manos,

The New York Times recently reported that the number of migrants arriving at the southern U.S. border in June 2021 was the largest in years, with border agents encountering migrants an astounding 188,289 times. The article cites the migration as being driven, in part, by “violence and poverty in Central America.” Yet, our experience at Voces y Manos has shown that the drivers of this migration are much more nuanced. We believe that there is a larger, virtually undiscussed, root cause of migration that has loomed for years: climate change.

In the past two weeks, Politico and National Geographic released timely articles highlighting the role that climate change has played in the migration crisis. In “A hunger crisis forces Guatemalans to choose: migration or death,” National Geographic highlights the high levels of malnutrition in the “dry corridor” of Guatemala, a region particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The article documents the plight of farmers who have experienced little to no rain in each of the previous six rainy seasons and the resulting effects extreme weather conditions have had on health outcomes and migration. Politico’s “It’s Not a Border Crisis. It’s a Climate Crisis,” highlights the fact that up to 15 percent of households in areas vulnerable to extreme climate events have experienced migration– and that number is expected to grow exponentially in coming years.

We at Voces y Manos have known this reality intimately for the better part of the last decade. The farming households that we work with in Rabinal– a community right in the middle of the dry corridor– have seen five of the last seven corn harvests fail due to drought. Daily, monsoon-like deluges during the rainy season that were common ten years ago are nearly nonexistent today. In Rabinal and the surrounding communities, our data collection efforts show that 27 percent of households have at least one family member who migrated in the previous year– nearly double the estimates highlighted in Politico’s article.

Through a recently awarded Rotary International Global Grant, Voces y Manos’ agricultural technicians are working hard to confront this reality. Our work, which will extend through 2023, aims to build resilience of farmers and their households to the effects of climate change. Since January, we’ve held over 20 workshops for 500 people in sustainable agricultural practices such as crop diversification, organic composting, and water conservation techniques. We’ve vaccinated tens of thousands of livestock and planted over 70,000 drought-resistant coffee plants and fruit trees. Our work will ensure that communities can mitigate the risk of climate change, have healthier outcomes, and a reduced need to migrate.

The recent and timely articles above demonstrate the interconnectedness of climate change and migration. The need is urgent and real, and will only worsen in coming years. Your past assistance and support to Voces y Manos has been pivotal, and we’re here to ask you again to give whatever you can to help us continue the great work on the ground. There’s a lot more to do, and we’re just getting started. 

With gratitude,

Armando, Jeni, Macario, Michael, Andrew, and Kimberly

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