Latin America – Migration to the cities

Extract from case study in “Refugees and the Environment-the forgotten element of sustainability” by Jean Lambert [at the time of writing, an MEP-Greens in the European Parliament]


…Latin America is just one region where we can see the links between development, the environment and forced migration. Many migrants in Latin America are what can be called ‘environmentally displaced people’, where the environment is one factor which has led them to move. Poverty has increased dramatically since the 1970s in Latin America. One significant trend is the rising ‘urbanisation of poverty’ as people migrate to the cities. Out of 37 million new poor created between 1986 and 1998, 31 million were urban. Migration to the cities occurs for a variety of reasons, one of which is rural poverty, due to the mixture of socio-economic and climatic reasons (e.g. drought, landslides). The World Bank has stated that “Migration is essential for rural poverty alleviation-on average, rural areas will see 7% of their population to migration every year in the next 25 years”. But urban poverty is not pretty either, and these millions of migrants must be given a chance to build a new life. Up to 25% of urban dwellers (90 million) in Latin America live in slums… in very precarious situations, due to insecurity of tenure and the poor quality of land, which is illegally settled…


Migration to cities creates enormous pressure on already stretched urban infrastructures – in most cities piped drinking water and sewage services are not available to everyone. The effects of climate change on cities are often magnified due to overburdened urban areas. Many cities in Latin America have begun to suffer from the impacts of sea level rise, adverse weather and extreme climate conditions, and their indirect effects on water supply, sanitation, energy supply and so on. In shanty towns established in the drainage valleys of rivers and streams, flooding is already becoming more frequent as a result of climatic variability and might be exacerbated by global warming…

The urban/rural/regional divide in Peru