Climate Crisis, Migration and Health Risks - Doctors of the World

Climate Crisis, Migration and Health Risks


While refugee and immigration flows have already been significant in the past decades, the climate crisis will cause an increase in the amount of people fleeing difficult life conditions. One’s decision to migrate is often influenced by a variety of reasons, and the climate crisis brings forth additional difficulties for individuals living in areas where violence, social or economic conditions may be disfavorable.


Estimating Climate Migration


The effects of the climate crisis on migration have already been noticeable, as 84% of refugees and asylum seekers in 2022 have fled climate vulnerable countries, compared to 61% a decade ago. Such a stark increase strongly suggests a growing correlation between environmental factors and forced migration. Environmental factors include disasters, floods, sea level rise and water scarcity, all of which are more common as our climate becomes increasingly hostile. 

Disaster displaced people most often remain within the confines of their states, and are internally displaced people. Recent estimates suggest that the climate crisis could force 216 million people to move within their countries by 2050. Other displaced people may cross borders, a notable trend in Central and South America.


Doctors of the World’s Efforts in Climate-Affected Regions


Recognizing the urgent need for accessible healthcare in regions affected by climate-induced migration, Doctors of the World has intensified its commitment to providing medical care in vulnerable areas. Therefore, when significant floods occurred during the summer of 2022 in Pakistan, causing the internal displacement of nearly 8 million people, Doctors of the World launched an emergency response. In two of the most affected regions, we established mobile clinics providing primary healthcare and sexual and reproductive health services.



Since 2020, Madagascar is facing a severe drought, plunging the country into a major food crisis. The lack of healthcare infrastructure deprives the population of access to a minimum level of care and Doctors of the World has deployed mobile clinics in the country. Similar drought conditions are currently impacting Guatemala. As a result, rates of child-malnutrition are rising. The droughts in Madagascar and Guatemala exemplify the way in which environmental conditions can impact the health of local populations and necessitate emergency responses. If these impacts continue, significant parts of the population become increasingly at risk having to flee their homes.


A Call for International Action


Beyond access to healthcare, in order to address all the needs of climate refugees or those at risk of becoming them, international cooperation must be improved with enhanced legal protections of displaced people at international and regional levels. Adopting cohesive policies and action plans to address climate displacement is more than necessary, building infrastructures that enable migrants to receive care and protection.

Moreover, it is important to address the root causes of climate migration to prevent human mobility resulting from the climate crisis and help individuals stay in their homes. Indeed, the effects of the climate crisis on communities must be lessened by taking measures for their protection, including adhering to the Paris Agreements and to the COP28 resolution to transition away from fossil fuels.

Overall, the impact of the climate crisis on migration requires urgent action. As Doctors of the World maintains its commitment to accessible healthcare for the most vulnerable, we are increasingly convinced that addressing climate-induced migration also requires international cooperation, legal protections, and adoption of protective measures. Together, we can work to prevent displacement, enable communities to thrive in their homes, and address the health needs of migrants in transit when displacement is inevitable.


World Bank, “Climate Change Could Force 216 Million People to Migrate Within Their Own Countries by 2050,” press release, September 13, 2021.

UNHCR, “Climate Action Focus Area Strategic Plan 2024-2030,” UNHCR Reporting, December 2023.



Photo 1 – © Yiannis Yiannakopoulos – MdM Greece 

Photo 2 – © Saiyna Bashir

Photo 3 – © Sébastien Duijndam