Investigating Environmental Migration in the South American Gran Chaco

MIEUX+ is researching the link between human mobility, environment and climate change in Gran Chaco with a regional consortium of partners from Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay, including Redes Chaco and the South American Network for Environmental Migrations (RESAMA).

Casting light on a complex phenomenon

Environmental migration is a complex phenomenon, encompassing situations as varied as those of communities whose crops are threatened by severe droughts, as well as those of the inhabitants of low-lying island States who witness the advance of the sea onto their territories and its consequences.

Due to sudden or progressive changes in the environment, more and more indigenous and rural communities are forced to leave their homes and resettle elsewhere.

Apart from slow onset events, man-made threats such as industries polluting waters and the atmosphere or impacting the local flora and fauna, have prompted the displacement of these communities.

To date, no major research or data collection have been conducted on environmental migration, nor are figures available to understand and provide visibility to such a complex phenomenon and the populations concerned.

The MIEUX+ team of experts and partners are undertaking the very first study to discern the link between human mobility and environmental changes caused by climate change and/or manufactured in specific localities of Gran Chaco.

The study will analyse how this phenomenon is affecting people in vulnerable situations, focusing on some communities in Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay.

As part of the project, the team is also drafting a set of public policy recommendations on environmental migration in the region, as well as a tool to monitor their implementation and follow-up.

The MIEUX+ partner network includes:

- Subnational governmental authorities, such as the Secretariat of State for International Relations of the Government of the Province of Tucumán (Argentina), Subsecretariat of Civil Defence (Government of the Province of Salta, Argentina), Autonomous Regional Government of the Gran Chaco Villa Montes (Bolivia), Departmental Secretariat of Environment and Development of the Government of Boquerón Province (Paraguay);

- CSOs and academia, such as the Chaco Network, Faculty of Social Sciences of the National University of Cordoba (Argentina), Pronorte Foundation, Foundation for Productive Development, and Association of Free Women of Northern Cordoba;

- Regional organisations, such as the Integration Zone of Central-West South America (ZICOSUR).


Has environmental migration spared the region?

In April 2023, the MIEUX+ team and European, regional and local experts embarked on a 14-day journey, travelling around the Gran Chaco region to meet and amplify the voices of the impacted communities.

The aim of the trip was to collect information in selected locations to produce a fact-finding report with data collected through workshops and interviews with local stakeholders.

The journey covered a distance of more than 3,700 km between the arid and humid, hilly and flat Chaco and the Pilcomayo river area along the territories of Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay.

The team held 23 meetings and had the chance to meet more than 200 people, from more than 12 different ethnicities, by conducting participatory workshops and also individual interviews.

Among others, they brought together representatives from the Aymara, Chorote, Enhlet Norte, Guaraní, Manjui, Nivaklé, Pilagá, Quechua, Tapiete, Toba, Weenayek and Wichi communities.

In addition to the diversity of the communities and territories encountered, the team also made a point of creating the right conditions and listening to the voices of those not usually heard. They consulted mixed groups, but also women and children individually, by arranging a number of closed-door sessions.

The detailed takeaways will be incorporated into the study, but the team left the Gran Chaco region with a key finding: it appears that the phenomenon of environmental migration has not spared the region. Each population is facing different challenges, yet all somehow connected to water.

Whether due to man-made threats or slow onset events, access to water, droughts, water pollution and extreme floods have caused more and more internal displacement in the Gran Chaco region.

Some of the people interviewed had been forced to move due to extreme floods, making it impossible to access their native lands. Others had to leave because of an increasing number of polluting and waste management enterprises built on their territories. Drought made it impossible for some communities to maintain their lifestyles based on agriculture.


Looking ahead

Based on the data collected, the MIEUX+ team is now drafting a systematic Regional Diagnosis on Environmental Migration and will present the key findings at a seminar in September.

In close collaboration with the partner authorities, they will also produce information and communication materials later this year and, finally, recommendations for policy implementation and monitoring.


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