Environmental Migrants: The Last Illusion

31st Jan 2013

© Alessandro Grassani

“In a little less than 40 years, 1 out of 45 people will be a climate refugee, and they will be 6 times more than political refugees,” says 2012 Sony World Photography Awards finalist Alessandro Grassani. 

“We call them refugees or environmental migrants, though these people still don't have a proper name and, for international law, not even a status.”

Environmental migration is expected to be the planet’s new humanitarian emergency of the century.

Grassani is preparing the third and final instalment of his documentary photography project, “Environmental Migrants: The Last Illusion” – but its completion can only occur with crowd funded support.

The overall project consists of imagery showcasing the effects of climate change on environmental migrants from three of the world’s hardest hit cities: Ulan Batar, Dhaka and Nairobi. 

The mass migration of individuals to urban centres due to environmental change places strains on the individuals beyond simply abandoning their land. Moreover, the influx in urban dwellers leads to disastrous social and hygienic consequences. Estimates by the International Organisation for Migration and the United Nations foresee the number of environmental migrants will spike to more than 200 million individuals by 2050 if climate change continues at this rate.  

© Alessandro Grassani
© Alessandro Grassani

The first in the series, spotlighting Mongolia, received third place in the Contemporary Issues category of the 2012 Sony World Photography Awards. The series focused on Mongolia’s extreme cold, which killed more than 8 million sheep, cows, camels and yaks in 2010 alone. The harsh weather conditions consequently forced more than 20,000 herdsmen to migrate to the capital of Ulan Batar.  The city’s population has doubled in the past few years. 

© Alessandro Grassani© Alessandro Grassani
       Above images: © Alessandro Grassani

The second instalment of ‘Environmental Migrants’ explored the world’s greatest effects of climate change in Bangladesh. Its capital, Dhaka, is expecting a population rise from 14 million to 50 million by 2050. Today, Dhaka has over 300,000 newcomers entering the city each year; most of whom are environmental refugees.

© Alessandro Grassani
© Alessandro Grassani

Now, Grassani turns his eye to Kenya. The photographer says Kenya’s pastoral population has been among the hardest hit by climate change in Africa, placing immense pressure on Nairobi. “They are men, women and children who can no longer live in their villages – made uninhabitable by climate changes – and that is why they are forced to emigrate,” he says.

“The first two chapters of the project were completely self-financed,” Grassani shares. “Now I hope to produce the last chapter with crowd funding.”

Grassani says he became a photographer to tell the stories that would otherwise go untold. “My wish is to give as much visibility as possible to my project and to a problem that few people still know about,” he says of ‘Environmental Migrants’.

© Alessandro Grassani
© Alessandro Grassani

“I began documenting the environmental migrant phenomenon and I would like to continue with it,” he says, “but I need concrete help from everyone.” Grassani says his goal for the project’s completion is to “give a voice to those people who otherwise would never even be heard.” 

“It is indispensable to turn the spotlights on this situation before it becomes a self-evident catastrophe,” he says. “My photos can give no answer, but my work will have its best results when it urges more and more people to study a topic.”

To contribute to the final instalment of Grassani’s series, please visit his crowd funding campaign here.

January 2013
Author: Kaley Sweeney