Driven by Drought

Under African skies
the earth splits wide
like sun-baked clay,
birthing lifeless fields
in empty beds.
Across this broken land
people shift
like shadows,
always moving.
Towards the river
whispered in the soil.
Towards the city
blooming like algae.
Towards the mirage
of better days.
Nighttime lights
paint patterns
like constellations
crashed to earth,
a yearning tribute
to where the rains
once fell.

Droughts, including the ongoing severe drought in the Horn of Africa, can prompt people to relocate closer to water sources or cities (Image Credit: UNICEF Ethiopia).

This poem is inspired by recent research, which has found that vulnerable populations face flood risk in most African countries.

Understanding how and why people move in response to environmental changes like droughts is a complex issue. It’s influenced by various factors including the environment, politics, society, demographics, and the economy. Droughts, while not the sole reason, can significantly impact people’s decisions to relocate. However, the specific ways in which droughts affect where people choose to live have been somewhat unclear. This is a crucial area of study, as climate change continues to alter weather patterns globally, potentially leading to more frequent and severe droughts.

This research focuses on Africa, examining how droughts between 1992 and 2013 have influenced human settlement patterns in 50 countries. The study used two key indicators to track annual drought occurrences: the EM-DAT international disaster database and the standardized precipitation evapotranspiration index (SPEI-12). Additionally, it looked at urban population data and proximity to rivers, using nighttime light data as a proxy for human settlements. By comparing human settlement patterns in years with and without droughts, the research found that, in most African countries, droughts lead to a significant shift in where people live. During droughts, there’s a noticeable movement towards rivers or urban areas, likely as people seek water sources or better living conditions. This trend highlights a form of adaptation to drought, but it also raises concerns about potential risks like flooding and overcrowding in urban areas. This study provides valuable insights into how climate change and human mobility are interconnected, emphasising the need to understand these dynamics in the face of a warming world.

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