6 Jun

Map of the Week: Climate Migration in Brazil

 

By Chiara Ryals

Latin America and the Caribbean hold some of the world’s most vulnerable regions to the effects of climate change, giving rise to waves of climate-induced migration. In Brazil alone, some 708,000 people were forced to leave their homes due to natural disasters in 2022. Like many countries across the globe, Brazil faces a range of climate-related threats, including rising temperatures, changing hydrological patterns, and an increased frequency of extreme weather events such as floods and droughts. These converging crises are driving internal migration, sometimes from one at-risk area to another. The recent flooding that has left over half a million residents without homes in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul is just one example of the mass displacement events forcing relocation within the country.

The Amazon Basin is experiencing more severe and prolonged droughts, alongside increased deforestation rates. These conditions not only threaten biodiversity but also disrupt the livelihoods of local communities that depend on the land. Similarly, the semi-arid northeast region of Brazil, known as the Sertão, is facing intensified droughts, leading to crop failures, water scarcity, and food insecurity. In the southern regions, by contrast, intense rainfall and flooding have become more common, causing mass displacement and long-term damage to infrastructure and agriculture.

Rural populations, especially from drought-stricken areas like the Sertão, are increasingly relocating to urban centers such as Fortaleza, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro, contributing to a growth in urban populations. However, Brazil’s coastal cities face their own climate-related risks, including sea-level rise, coastal erosion, and storm surges. Floods not only pose immediate dangers but also have longer-lasting impacts on agricultural production and water supplies. Such disasters have a disproportionate effect on poor populations, who often lack the resources to adapt to severe local changes. In urban areas, low-income neighborhoods and favelas built on vulnerable hillsides are particularly at-risk. As a result, residents of these communities are frequently displaced in the case of extreme weather events.

Climate-induced migration differs from historical migration patterns, where migrants may move across the continent seeking job opportunity or education. Gradual flows of immigration can be more easily adapted to, but sudden fluxes of forced migration due to disaster pose significant challenges to unprepared urban infrastructure and services, sometimes leading to community resistance. Increased pressure on already strained urban areas can often contribute to the growth of informal settlements with inadequate access to clean water, sanitation, and healthcare. Climate migration is expected to increase, but the specific causes and outcomes vary by situation, making it harder to predict when and where people will be forced to relocate and emphasizing the need for adaptable infrastructures.

 

Sources:

Internal displacements of people from weather-related disasters in Brazil 2008-2022

Brazil Case Study | Climate Refugees | Othering & Belonging Institute

Climate Migration: Latin America Prepares for an Increase in Environmental Refugees – Harvard Graduate School of Design