Using a migration systems approach to understand the link between climate change and urbanisation in Malawi
Natalie Suckall, Evan Fraser, Piers Forster, David Mkwambisi
School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, LS2 9JT, UK.
Most scholarship on rural–urban migration in Sub-Saharan Africa demonstrates that migrants tend to move in a “circular” fashion and only spend short periods of time in cities before returning home to rural villages. However, some scholars working on the impacts of climate change on migration suggest that deteriorating environmental conditions may undermine rural livelihoods and lead people to move to cities for longer periods of time. If this is true, then climate change threatens to accelerate urbanisation and lead to renewed stress on urban infrastructure. The purpose of this paper is to explore these positions and we do so by collecting survey [n = 241], in-depth interview [n = 75] and focus group [n = 123 participants] data from rural and urban Malawi. Two key results stand out as significant. The first is that migrants in Malawi's capital city tend to stay in the urban environment for longer periods of time than conventional understandings of migration would predict. The second key result is that climate change may actually lead, in the case of Malawi, to reverse (i.e urban–rural) migration. This is because many of the people in Malawi's cities depend on products produced in rural environments (e.g. food and fuelwood). If climate change undermines rural livelihoods, then many urban residents will find the basis of their livelihoods removed and will likely respond by moving back to rural villages. Overall, our results, therefore, suggest that in at least one case the effect of climate change on migration may not be to increase migration towards cities but to stimulate an exodus from cities and back to the rural countryside.
Keywords: Migration; Climate change; Urbanisation; Africa; Livelihoods.