Can glacial retreat lead to migration? A critical discussion of the impact of glacier shrinkage upon population mobility in the Bolivian Andes

Abstract

This article examines the role of glacial retreat on human migration in the Bolivian Andes—a topic with virtually no scholarly focus, yet of critical importance in the era of global climate change. Glacial melting has increased since the 1980s, and popular reports often suggest there will be significant impacts on local populations, including migration. Based on interviews with local residents, both migrants and nonmigrants, as well as topical experts, this study suggests that residents do, indeed, have serious concerns about future livelihood conditions in the Bolivian Andes. Even so, glacial retreat has not triggered new migration flows and has had a limited impact on the existing migratory patterns.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In its original version: “El deshielo empuja la emigración en una comunidad indígena de Bolivia”. (translation by the author).

  2. 2.

    Earthjustice (USA) and Agua Sustentable (Bolivia).

  3. 3.

    There are also complex interactions with the wetlands (bofedales) situated at a higher altitude (Hoffmann, 2008; Squeo, et al., 2006), but these hydrological interactions are beyond the scope of this paper.

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Acknowledgments

I would like to acknowledge the anonymous reviewers and the journal editor for their very constructive comments. I am grateful to Professor Etienne Piguet, for his ongoing guidance and assistance. I would also like to thank my Bolivian colleagues and friends Fabrizio Uscaymata, Milton Rojas, and Carlos Arellano. In addition, I would like to acknowledge all the people from the Illimani area who were interviewed and shared their experience and knowledge, and to thank the Agua Sustentable and BMI (Bolivian Mountain Institute) staff members for their time and their inputs.

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Raoul, K. Can glacial retreat lead to migration? A critical discussion of the impact of glacier shrinkage upon population mobility in the Bolivian Andes. Popul Environ 36, 480–496 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11111-014-0226-z

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Keywords

  • Migration
  • Glacial retreat
  • Glaciers
  • Climate change
  • Livelihoods
  • Mobility
  • Mountain
  • Bolivia
  • Andes