Climate-Induced Loss and Damage and Internal Human Mobility in Ghana

April 13, 2023

From Pulmakong, Ghana’s northernmost village, to Axim, its southernmost one, climate change is causing serious losses and damages to lives and livelihoods. Located in West Africa, Ghana is classified as one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change due to its heavy reliance on climate-sensitive sectors, mainly agriculture, energy, and forestry. Climate-induced loss and damage (L&D) is a growing concern, and people in affected areas are increasingly forced to migrate in search of safety or economic opportunities. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Ghana, like many other vulnerable countries in the Global South, is projected to experience more frequent and intense climate change impacts, which will exacerbate L&D and lead to forced human mobility.

Climate-induced L&D refers to the negative effects of climate change, including biophysical, economic, and non-economic losses and damages. Climate events such as floods, droughts, and coastal erosion have resulted in severe damage to infrastructure, homes, crops, and livestock in Ghana, leading to significant economic losses. For instance, the coastal belt of Ghana, which spans about 340 miles along the Gulf of Guinea, has lost 37% of its land cover to coastal erosion between 2005 and 2017.

In Ghana, L&D is intertwined with human mobility in significant ways. Data on migration from the Population and Housing Censuses carried out by the Ghana Statistical Service in 2000, 2010, and 2021 indicate a trend of growing internal migration in the country.

Coastal communities in the Volta, Western, Central, and Greater Accra regions experience economic and non-economic losses every year due to sea level rise and strong tidal waves. For example, the Keta municipality in the Volta region has experienced periodic tidal waves over the past few years which have displaced people and put communities such as Kporkporgbor, Fuveme, Dzita, Havedzi, and Xorvi at risk of extinction. In November 2021, a tidal wave surge led to the displacement of about 4,000 people in Keta and its environs, destroying homes and properties.

This phenomenon is not limited to Keta, as most communities along the coast of Ghana are at high risk due to sea level rise. Aside from the displacement of people and loss of lives and properties, Ghana is at risk of losing key tourist sites such as Forts and Castles as well as its vibrant beaches, leading to economic and non-economic L&D. Furthermore, local communities are forced to leave their ancestral homes and cultural heritage as climate-related disasters cause them to move to new locations.

The northern part of the country, once the nation’s “breadbasket,” is now one of the most vulnerable areas due to climate change impacts on subsistence farming livelihoods. Unpredictable rainfall and prolonged droughts are leading to lower yields and the destruction of their crops, and as a result, able-bodied young men and women are migrating southwards to Accra in search of alternative livelihoods.

It is estimated that 277,591 people in Ghana were internally displaced due to climate- and weather-related disasters between 2008 and 2021 (IDMC). Many of these displacements were due to floods and storms, which have become more frequent and severe in recent years. Displaced people often move to urban areas in search of a better livelihood, where they face social and economic challenges.

In addition to migration and displacement, L&D has other negative impacts on Ghana’s environment and economy, such as damage to road and bridge infrastructure (which makes it harder for people to access essential services like healthcare and education) or loss of natural resources (which negatively impacts the tourism sector and other industries).

Despite the Government’s efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change, the people of Ghana are facing significant L&D that compounds other challenges, such as rapid urban growth.  Given the seriousness of these issues, national and international actors must take steps to proactively address the impacts of climate change, including the displacement and forced migration of vulnerable populations.

Policy measures to improve the resilience of communities and ecosystems, such as the development of early warning systems for extreme weather events or the promotion of sustainable land use practices, could help to reduce the vulnerability of people and communities. In addition, infrastructure such as dams and irrigation systems could mitigate the effects of droughts while sea walls or mangrove ecosystems can enhance the protection of coastal communities from flooding and erosion.

Funding arrangements are needed to implement these climate actions, especially for vulnerable communities which are most affected by L&D but have very limited resources to respond. Furthermore, there is a need for awareness creation on the impact of L&D, as many people are still unaware of the link between climate change and displacement, leading to a lack of preparedness and planning for the effects of climate change.

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