People fleeing impacts of climate change suffering physical and mental health crises

Issues range from anxiety and depression to addiction and domestic violence.

Press release, 14 December 2022

People migrating to escape climate change-induced drought, floods, sea-level rise and crop failure are suffering a range of physical and mental health impacts as a result, according to new analysis from IIED and the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD).

Researchers questioning people in Africa, South and Southeast Asia and the Pacific who had suffered losses and damage due to climate change and had been forced to migrate as a result, found examples of people suffering anxiety and depression, addiction, domestic violence and suicide.

In 'Climate-induced migration and health issues: a toolkit for policymakers', researchers list some of the issues people raised, including;

  • Women from the drought-hit Turkana region of Kenya who migrated to urban areas were exposed to sexual and gender-based violence. Some turned to prostitution as a way to survive.   
  • The receding shoreline of Lake Chad Basin in Niger and Nigeria spurred competition over dwindling resources. Migration increased demand for housing and resources such as water and arable land, creating local conflicts between farmers and pastoralists. Displacement also disrupted family social cohesion, leading to numerous reports of domestic disturbances in camps. 
  • Almost 93% of children who frequently face tidal floods in Tirto district, Indonesia experienced moderate anxiety and 29% had mild depression.
  • Groundwater depletion in Chitrakoot, India forced women to walk longer distances and queue for many hours for water. Many poor households were forced to sell their assets to make ends meet and when all hope failed, suicide was a reality for many.
  • Lack of access to water and power after cyclones added to women’s workloads in the Cook Islands. Similarly, in Vanuatu, the destruction of forest habitat by Cyclone Harold increased the workload for women and girls, who had to walk longer distances to get clean water and wood.

In some parts of the world, communities are experiencing more intense and more frequent impacts from climate change, leading to loss of life, land and livelihoods and damage to property and society.

For many, migration is a coping mechanism – up to 72 million people across sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America are expected to be displaced by 2050 due to water stress, sea-level rise and crop failure, according to the IPCC sixth assessment report.

Ritu Bharadwaj, a principal researcher for IIED, said: “While migration can solve the immediate problem for people facing catastrophic flooding, relentless sea-level rise, or punishing droughts, it can also make them vulnerable to a range of other physical or mental challenges.

“Recent events like the devastating floods in Pakistan or the perilous drought in the Horn of Africa show that climate change is already wreaking havoc and millions will be forced to migrate to escape its worst effects. We need to ensure the right safety nets are in place so that they are not subject to further suffering.”

Those safety nets could include building people’s physical and psychological health issues into action plans for climate resilience, reforming social protection schemes to protect migrant rights, doing a cost-benefit analysis of providing universal social protection, psychological support and health centres, and equipping relief camps and migrant destinations with decent shelter, sanitation and drinking water facilities.

For more information or to request an interview, contact Sarah Grainger: +44 7503 643332 or