Peru Faces Challenge of Climate Change-Driven Internal Migration — Global Issues

  • by Mariela Jara (lima)
  • Inter Press Service

“We recognize migration due to climate change as a very tangible issue that needs to be addressed,” Pablo Peña, a geographer who is coordinator of the Emergency and Humanitarian Assistance Unit of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Peru, told IPS.

In an interview with IPS at the UN agency’s headquarters in Lima, Peña reported that according to the international Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, the number of people displaced within Peru’s borders by disasters between 2008 and 2022 is estimated at 659,000, most of them floods related to climate disturbances.

In this Andean country of 33 million inhabitants, there is a lack of specific and centralized data to determine the characteristics of migration caused by environmental and climate change factors.

Peña said that through a specific project, the IOM has collaborated with the Peruvian government in drafting an action plan aimed at preventing and addressing climate-related forced migration, on the basis of which a pilot project will begin in October to systematize information from different sources on displacement in order to incorporate the environmental and climate component.

“We aim to be able to define climate migrants and incorporate them into all regulations,” said the expert. The project, which includes gender, rights and intergenerational approaches, is being worked on with the Ministries of the Environment and of Women and Vulnerable Populations.

He added that this type of migration is multidimensional. “People can say that they left their homes in the Andes highlands because they had nothing to eat due to the loss of their crops, and that could be interpreted, superficially, as forming part of economic migration because they have no means of livelihood. But that cause can be associated with climatic variables,” Peña said.

In a 2022 report, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) identified Peru as the country with the highest level of food insecurity in South America.

The Central Reserve Bank, in charge of preserving monetary stability and managing international reserves, lowered in its September monthly report Peru’s economic growth projection to 0.9 percent for this year, partly due to the varied impacts of climate change on agriculture and fishing.

This would affect efforts to reduce the poverty rate, which stands at around 30 percent in the country, where seven out of every 10 workers work in the informal sector, and would drive up migration of the population in search of food and livelihoods.

“The World Bank estimates that by 2050 there will be more than 10 million climate migrants in Latin America,” said Peña.

The same multilateral institution, in its June publication Peru Strategic Actions Toward Water Security, points out that people without economic problems are 10 times more resistant than those living in poverty to climatic impacts such as floods and droughts, which are increasing at the national level.

The country is currently experiencing the Coastal El Niño climate phenomenon, which in March caused floods in northern cities and droughts in the south. The official National Service of Meteorology and Hydrology warned that in January 2024 it could converge with the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) global phenomenon, accentuating its impacts.

El Niño usually occurs in December, causing the sea temperature to rise and altering the rainfall pattern, which increases in the north of the country and decreases in the south.

Reluctance to migrate to safer areas

Piura, a northern coastal department with an estimated population of just over two million inhabitants, has been hit by every El Niño episode, including this year’s, which left more than 46,000 homes damaged, even in areas that had been rebuilt.

Juan Aguilar, manager of Natural Resources of the Piura regional government, maintains that the high vulnerability to ENSO is worsening with climate change and is affecting the population, communication routes and staple crops.

At an IOM workshop on Sept. 5 in Lima, the official stressed that Piura is caught up in both floods and droughts, in a complex context for the implementation of spending on prevention, adaptation and mitigation.

Aguilar spoke to IPS about the situation of people who, despite having lost their homes for climatic reasons, choose not to migrate, in what he considers to be a majority trend.

“People are not willing overall to move to safer areas, even during El Niño 2017 when there were initiatives to relocate them to other places; they prefer to wait for the phenomenon to pass and return to their homes,” he added.

He explained that this attitude is due to the fact that they see the climatic events as recurrent. “They say, I already experienced this in such and such a year, and there is a resignation in the sense of saying that we are in a highly vulnerable area, it is what we have to live with, God and nature have put us in these conditions,” Aguilar said.

He acknowledged that with regard to this question, public policies have not made much progress. “For example after 2017 a law was passed to identify non-mitigable risk zones, and that has not been enforced despite the fact that it would help us to implement plans to relocate local residents to safer areas,” he added.

The regional official pointed out that “we do not have an experience in which the State says ‘I have already identified this area, there is so much housing available here for those who want to relocate’ , because the social cost would be so high.”

“We have not seen this, and the populace has the feeling that if they are going to start somewhere else, the place they abandon will be taken by someone else, and they say: ‘what is the point of me moving, if the others will be left here’,” Aguilar said.

The fear of starting over

Some 40 km from the Peruvian capital, in Lurigancho-Chosica, one of the 43 municipalities of the province of Lima, the local population is getting nervous about the start of the rainy season in December, which threatens mudslides in some of its 21 ravines. The most notorious due to their catastrophic impact occurred in 1987, 2017, 2018 and March of this year.

Landslides, known in Peru by the Quechua indigenous term “huaycos”, have been part of the country’s history, due to the combination of the special characteristics of the rugged geography of the Andes highlands and the ENSO phenomenon.

In an IPS tour of the Chosica area of Pedregal, one of the areas vulnerable to landslides and mudslides due to the rains, there was concern in the municipality about the risks they face, but also a distrust of moving to a safer place to start over.

“I came here to Pedregal as a child when this was all fields where cotton and sugar cane were planted. I have been here for more than sixty years and we have progressed, we no longer live in shacks,” said 72-year-old Paulina Vílchez, who lives in a nicely painted two-story house built of cement and brick.

On the first floor she set up a bodega, which she manages herself, where she sells food and other products. She did not marry or have children, but she helped raise two nieces, with whom she still lives in a house that is the fruit of her parents’ and then her own efforts and which represents decades of hard work.

Vílchez admits that she would like to move to a place where she could be free of the fear that builds up every year. But she said it would have to be a house with the same conditions as the one she has managed to build with so much effort. “I’m not going to go to an empty plot to start all over again, that’s why I’ve stayed. I leave everything in the hands of God,” she told IPS.

Very close to the Rimac River and next to the railway tracks that shake her little wooden house each time the train passes by lives Maribel Zavaleta, 50, born in Chosica, and her family of two daughters, a son, and three granddaughters.

“I came here in 1989 with my mom, she was a survivor of the 1987 huayco, and we lived in tents until we were relocated here. But it’s not safe; in 2017 the river overflowed and the house was completely flooded,” she told IPS.

Zavaleta started her own family at the age of 21, but is now separated from her husband. Her eldest son lives with his girlfriend on the same property, and her older daughter, who works and helps support the household, has given her three granddaughters. The youngest of her daughters is 13 and attends a local municipal school.

“I work as a cleaner and what I earn is only enough to cover our basic needs,” she said. She added that if she were relocated again it would have to be to a plot of land with a title deed and materials to build her house, which is now made of wood and has a tin roof, while her plot of land is fenced off with metal sheets.

“I can’t afford to improve my little house or leave here. I would like the authorities to at least work to prevent the river from overflowing while we are here,” she said, pointing to the rocks left by the 2017 landslide that have not been removed.

© Inter Press Service (2023) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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