Since 2008, 22.5m people have been displaced by climate-related or extreme weather events according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. While there are many culprits when it comes to forced migration, climate change is making it harder for people to make a living off the land. Drought, heat and worsening disease risk are impacting Central American countries like Guatemala, amplifying the socio-economic impacts of political conflict and violence. So where does a Guatemalan coffee farmer go when his soils dry up because of climate change?
Freelance writer Lauran Markham has focused extensively on forced migration and says the largest sources of unauthorized immigrants to the US come from Central America’s dry corridor. As the climate worsens in this region, farmers are finding it harder to grow crops, forcing them to move to greener pastures to support their families. Markham has interviewed hundreds of migrants, and over the past few years has noticed environmental degradation and climate change are behind some of the problems they are seeking to leave behind.
El Salvador, one of the world’s most murderous countries, is just now recovering from a devastating drought, which only heightens the stakes and scope of the violence. The effects of drought in Central America are being exacerbated by widespread deforestation and farmers overtaxing their land. According to Climatelinks, a project of the United States Agency for International Development, the average temperature in El Salvador has risen 2.34 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1950s, and droughts have become longer and more intense.
The problem is widespread, like El Salvador, Gambia, Bangladesh and Guatemala, Ethiopia has been hit hard by climate change. Rains are reported to be more erratic according to Markham, and farmers can no longer making a living from their crops. Ethiopia is not even in the top 100 greenhouse gas emitters, but the impacts of climate change don’t respect borders.
Markham points out the inconsistency between the current US Administration’s environmental policies and its immigration policies. For while Trump is trying to stop “illegal” immigration, even separating toddlers from their parents, he also seems hellbent on unravelling many of the environmental policies introduced by his predecessors. Policies which were put in place to curb the effects of climate change.
While in office, Trump has pulled out of the international Paris climate accord and is hollowing out the Environmental Protection Agency, removing regulation and championing coal. Markham says the US should get serious about climate change if it wants to curb illegal immigration. If President Trump isn’t part of a global solution the problem will get worse, he can’t have it both ways.