Mobility and Rights

“Mobility broadly means the freedom to seek opportunities to improve livelihoods, living standards and services such as health care and education  – succinctly put, safer and more productive life in more responsive communities…It is a broader concept than migration, a fundamental element of human freedom.” (UNDP)

Although adverse impacts of climate change can affect basic human rights such as the right to life, the right to water, to health, to food, to an adequate standard of living or to freedom of movement, people displaced by climatic stresses or shocks do not fall under any category covered by current legal migration frameworks. A new strategic approach to migration is needed in order to reduce the impact of environmental events and enhance livelihoods, with equal priority given to policies promoting long-term resilience, including planned migration.


Land – Securing land for relocating communities at risk is a time-consuming process and a costly endevour.  Urgency is required and public funds need to be clearly allocated for the purpose.

Health – New settlements of thousands of people can always bring disease outbreaks that need to be avoided.  Currently, most communities on the move are indigenous groups who may have been isolated for long, simultaneously protected against epidemic diseases, such is now the case for the Kuna and yellow fever and malaria in the relocation site chosen on mainland Panama.

Environment – Long-term population movements from one place to another will have an environmental impact that needs to be well thought in order to be beneficial. It is of utmost importance at this stage to avoid unplanned migration to occur.

Access to livelihooods – Even after relocation, communities will be expected to continue maintaining close links to their initial settlements mostly due to their connection with livelihood sources, as it is the case for island and coastal communities with fishing and other current income-generating activities in the areas at risk. It is important than migrants maintain access to their old ways of life, while simultaneously receiving support to develop alternate income-generating skills for new livelihood opportunities in  relocation sites.

Timeframe – When threatened by sea-level rise and other slow-onset gradual phenomena, timeframes for relocations seem widely open. However, inaction to reduce risks now and delays to start implementing DRR and adaptation measures and first steps towards relocation can be eventually very costly.  Economically speaking, as expensive as relocations of entire communities may appear at first, it will undoubtedly be cheaper than current (and rapidly increasing) emergency costs.  With extreme weather-related events today on the rise,there is a serious threat of forced displacement to occur, as we are starting to witness in many vulnerable places today.

“The key challenge is to develop a policy that facilitates the adaptive capacity of migration rather than inhibiting it.” (Martin et al, 2013)

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