top of page

Global: Displaced Populations

Development and Displacement: Hydroelectricity

by Alexandra Barton

Dams create a means to power cities through the movement of water, with lower environmental pollution than coal. Large dams can relocate river water to drought-troubled regions of countries. They come at a cost, however: dams cannot be created without displacing populations and disrupting their livelihoods. A dam, more so in third-world countries, is controversial between its goal for energy and its tendency to disturb the communities and environment where the project is built.

First, hydroelectricity disturbs communities out of the land needed to build the facilities for energy production. Reservoirs containing water for a dam can inundate communities and farms that lie on river banks. These populations, who were once reliant on the large rivers for food production and health, are now driven away from the region. Many reservoirs have submerged fertile land on river banks. The Three Gorges Dam, the largest hydropower dam in the world, has a reservoir about 370 miles long, greater than the size of Lake Superior. Approximately four million people have been uprooted by the project. Physical resettlement is more challenging in societies where families have dwelt for various generations. As with the Sardar Sarovar dam in India, villages with eight or more generational histories were moved to undersized, unfamiliar settlement sites. The World Commission on Dams assesses that between forty to eighty million people have been displaced as a result of hydropower development.

In addition to the physical relocation of these residents in project zones, their livelihoods are uprooted likewise. Livelihood displacement, unlike the physical transfer to resettlement spots, is harder to resolve. Family groups and communities seldom move together, resulting in separation after relocation. Movement disconnects people from their jobs too. In rural areas where trades are often allocated through land ownership or families, finding new work in a new location is difficult. A man working in agriculture is frequently confronted with less resourceful land where he is resettled. In most displacement situations cash compensation is granted to assist a person in finding a source of earnings. Regularly, the cash is spent for food, and families are without any livelihood.

Further inhabitants are affected by hydroelectric development to those relocated. Populations residing downstream from a large dam encounter extreme changes in their environment. In India and China, where the greatest quantity of large dams are located, communities living on major river banks are oriented in fishing and agriculture trades. Along the Narmada River in India, most villages are self-sustaining with a strong reliance on the source of water. When the Sardar Sarovar dam was built, fishing villages downstream struggled to earn profits when the river ran dry. With fish and land endangered, natives near dams strain to secure a means of support for themselves.

Furthermore, the environmental hazards are evident in studies of large dams. Along with fertile riverbanks flooded, wildlife is threatened, fish habitats are harmed and they disappear, and the stagnant water breeds disease-spreading insects. In China, with Three Gorges Dam, the area surrounding is overpopulated by farmers and deforestation is occurring as a result.

Large dams create a substantial problem for local inhabitants who are pressed to alter their lives. In a survey of fifty large dams across the world, eighty percent of the dams studied resulted in decreased standards of living for resettlers. Extensive hydroelectric projects affect the welfare of residents, environments, and animals and their habitats. Controversial projects, like large dams, can damage regions of the world that already struggle with their water troubles.

New Zealand Proposals for Visa Change for Climate Refugees

by Courtney Johnston

Climate change is a huge problem that continues to worsen everyday. The problems are that associated with climate change have increased dramatically over the past few decades. This is because of more technology becoming advanced, meaning there is more carbon being produced in the air. Air pollution is creating problems that cannot be reversed.

Climate change is allowing the water levels to rise and this is creating problems for many countries. New Zealand and the Pacific Islands are some of those countries. With all of the problems that are arising, New Zealand has recognized “climate change as an official reason to seek asylum or residence elsewhere” (Noack, 2017). They are proposing a new visa category that will help up to 100 people per year from the Pacific Islands to come to New Zealand to seek refuge (Noack, 2017).

Over the past century water levels have risen 1.7 millimeters a year, however since the 1900s water levels have risen to more than three millimeters per year (Pearlman, 2017). There are communities that have to become relocated because of these issues (Pearlman, 2017).

To help with these problems New Zealand needs to work with other countries, such as Norway, Germany, Bangladesh, and Switzerland to talk about climate change and to push those who have been displaced, or will be displaced by natural disasters (Pearlman, 2017). With this proposal being brought to attention, officials have suggested that this problem needs to be something that can be fixed long-term, not something that is only going to help for a small amount of time. They suggest that there should be a global effort to reduce carbon emissions to help the Pacific Islanders (Pearlman, 2017). Climate change affects all living things and long-term solutions need to be made to create a better future for future generations.


Noack, R. (2017, October 31). A Proposal in New Zealand Could Trigger the Era of

‘Climate Change Refugees”.

Pearlman, J. (2017, December 9). New Zealand Creates Special Refugee Visa for Pacific

Islanders Affected by Climate Change.


Environmental Migrants

By Jason Zheng

The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) has estimated that around 27 million people are displaced by climate and weather related disasters a year. To give an overall picture of how important it is for these people to adapt to different climate changes, 27 million is estimated as larger than the size of Australia’s population.

These migrants are considered to be called “environmental migrants” and defined as the "Environmental migrants are persons or groups of persons who, for compelling reasons of sudden or progressive changes in the environment that adversely affect their lives or living conditions, are obliged to leave their habitual homes, or choose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, and who move either within their country or abroad”, by the International Organization for Migration.

The International Organization for Migration only proposes three types of environmental migrants:

-Emergency Migrants: people who flee due to a temporary environmental disaster.

-Forced Migrants: people who leave due to deteriorating environmental conditions.

M-otivated Migrants: people who choose to leave to avoid future economic problems.

However, these three types of migrants also may affect their ability to adapt to their new location. This serves as an obstacle for people that are not familiar with the living conditions of the land.

The National Geographic Magazine interviewed Oliver Smith an anthropologist and member of the UN group, it can be said that “there are at least 20 million environmental refugees worldwide…more than those displaced by war and political repression combined”.

Environmental migrants already poses neighboring conflicts. An example that can be explored is the Bangladesh-India border conflict.

Water Scarcity and Internally Displaced Persons

By Katherine Sentlinger

Water is an essential resource for life. If people do not have access to water, they must go to where there is a supply in order to survive. Thousands of people are displaced from their homes every year because of water scarcity. An internally displaced person or a IDP "is someone who is forced to flee their home but who, unlike a refugee, remains within their country's borders”. The CIA’s World Factbook estimates that more than 24.5 million people are internally displaced in the world.

There are many types of internally displaced persons, such as those displaced “as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters” (UNCHR) etc. In the past century, there have been two major types of internally displaced people as a result of water scarcity. These included people who have conflicts over the control of water and people who must leave there homes due to extreme environmental conditions, such as drought.

Conflicts over water are a major reason for internally displaced persons. These conflicts, which are sometimes violent ones, are usually over which group of people will control the water source. Conflicts over water can “range from tribal tension over access to a water point, to entire communities being displaced by the construction of a dam, to a general population’s response to the poor governance of their water services (Water and Conflict).” Those groups who have lost control over the water must find new sources of water in other areas.

For example, in November 2010 thousands of people were internally displaced from villages in central Somalia. This conflict resulted from two sub-clans fighting over the right to control the area’s grazing pasture and water. Many of the people who were displaced ‘were nomads who were forced to flee their water sources. ‘They are now in areas where there are no water points…The lucky ones have camped outside urban centres like Adado. They and their livestock are at risk’ (IRIN)”. Having lost their main source of water, these people must travel to find a new supply of water and to make new homes for themselves in order to survive.

Drought is also a major reason for internally displaced persons. During a drought, the people are unable to have access to water for drinking, for agriculture or to provide for their livestock. Lack of water causes the crops to die and major food shortages. After going long periods of time without rain people begin to run out of water and are forced to relocate to different areas where they can find water and new sources of income in order to provide for their families until the drought has ended.

For example, in 2008, Yemen suffered from a drought that displaced thousands of people. The main areas that were affected were the mountainous regions. After waiting almost a year for water, “thousands of people had abandoned their homes and moved to the main cities”. (IRIN) The people were dependent on springs and rain for drinking and for irrigation of their crops. In Yemen the main crops “include `khat' [a mild narcotic], corn, coffee, and fruit, which all depended on rainfall”. (IRIN) Because of the drought, farmers were unable to irrigate their crops and were forced to move from their homes to find new means of providing for themselves and their families.

Internally displaced persons are often confused with refugees. The two differ in that, refugees are people who are displaced to countries other than their own, while internally displaced persons “have not crossed an international border to find sanctuary but have remained inside their home countries. Even if they have fled for similar reasons as refugees (armed conflict, generalized violence, human rights violations), IDPs legally remain under the protection of their own government”. (UNHCR)

Many of these internally displaced people move into cities, move in with relatives or move to nearby villages that are not affected by the water scarcity that they had to flee from. For example, many pastoralists who have been displaced to urban areas due to water conflicts or drought “continue to face challenges of changing lifestyles and living under difficult economic conditions” (IRIN). Often times, once the conflicts or droughts have ended, many people return to their homes that they fled from.

Many organizations, such as the UNHCR and The Water Project, try to bring aid to those who have been displaced from their homes. Most of these organizations work to relieve some of the hardships of internally displaced persons by providing food, water and shelter to many who have been forced to leave their homes.

UNHCR or the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, supports the development of camps and other shelters to protect those who are displaced from their homes. The UNHCR has helped millions of people through what they call the ‘cluster approach.’ Under this approach, UNHCR has the lead role in overseeing the protection and shelter needs of IDPs as well as coordination and management of camps”.

The Water Project works to prevent displacement from occurring by builds wells, dams and other water catchment systems to help collect as much water as possible. This method allows more people to have easy access to fresh water and can reduce the risk of water related conflicts. The water can also be stored for longer periods of time and can be rationed for used in times of drought.

The number of internally displaced persons continues to grow rapidly as droughts and conflicts over water continue every year. There are many reasons for internal displacement and water scarcity continues to be one of the major ones. Water Scarcity is responsible for the internal displacement of millions of people through water conflicts and environmental conditions such as drought. 

bottom of page