Moving up and moving on: Migration, climate change and community resilience

Titi's make shift home near South Tarawa in Kiribati that is flooded by tides because of rising sea levels due to climate change. According to IOM estimates, by 2050, an estimated 200 million to 1 billion people will migrate due to similar changes to the climate and environment.
Photo Credit: UN ESCAP/Jillian Campbell
Titi's house sits on the edge of the ocean.

Titi wants better for his family. At the age of 13 he moved from an outer island to South Tarawa, the capital of Kiribati, to accompany his older sister who had found employment with the Government. Titi's family moved with him in the hope of better opportunities for the family, however, like many small islanders, Titi never found formal employment which would allow him to create a secure environment for his family.

Already in a difficult situation due to a lack of economic opportunities, his family also feels the pressures of climate change as rising water levels reclaim and diminish useable space on the island. Without the resources to move off his sister's property, Titi, his wife and his four children constructed a small one-room home (about five metres by five metres in size) where the land meets the ocean. During King tides, the waves roll in and out of his home, and with United Nations predictions that global sea levels will rise up to 82 cm by 2100 (mean figure) that situation seems unlikely to improve.

According to IOM estimates, by 2050, an estimated 200 million to 1 billion people will migrate due to similar changes to our climate and environment. Through a three-year project, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), and its partners are working to gain a better understanding of what this means for Pacific Islanders and to increase the protection of individuals and communities that may need to leave their homes and islands as conditions deteriorate.

Titi dreams of moving back to his island or to a location where they could have their own land or to Australia, where there is "good education and good food". However, for Titi and many others from Small Island Developing States (SIDS) there are limited options for international migration, and subsistence fisheries and agriculture are becoming increasingly difficult.

ESCAP is also working closely with governments in the Pacific region to build an `adaptive strategy' method which can look at issues like identifying suitable land for vulnerable families to move to. Alongside labour migration schemes which help populations relocate for employment purposes, this strategy will aim at maintaining habitat security in the home country of migrant workers, allowing families to stay together.

To accomplish this, ESCAP staff on the ground are serving as a point of communication for island people, interviewing them to clarify their concerns and opportunities as well as feeding their conclusions back in order that their governments can be better informed and respond to their changing needs. As one approach to the challenge, the project aims to decrease unplanned migration and to pursue planned migration, not only as an option of last resort, but also as a strategy for helping communities become more resilient.

So what does this mean for Titi and others like him? The policy recommendations and advice collected from the project will support his government in offering him a safer home, a safer income and give his family hope for a secure future.