When do households benefit from migration? Insights from vulnerable environments in Haiti

Submitted by Julian Tangermann 27th January 2016 11:05
policybrief v1 8 - climate adaptation.


Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and its steep topography and geographical location make it highly vulnerable to hydro-meteorological disasters. Environmental impacts are often exacerbated by poor management of natural resources and inadequate preventive and protective measures, which affect both livelihoods and economic development. 

Among possible responses to Haiti’s precarious situation, this policy brief* discusses new research findings with implications on the internal and international mobility of Haitians. Migration is embedded in the history of Haiti and constitutes a major and growing determinant of its national economy, particularly through financial remittances (the earned money that migrants send to their family 'back home').

Building on the main results of the MECLEP case study in Haiti, this policy brief* explores how different forms of human mobility relate to household vulnerability in three Haitian municipalities (La Marmelade, Les Gonaïves and Port-au-Prince).  

The authors recommend policies aimed at fostering the potential of migration as part of positive adaptation strategies, while also preventing and reducing displacement risks. Besides Haiti’s migration policy (currently under discussion), migration and its relationship with household vulnerability is interconnected with several policy areas that would benefit from mainstreaming migration.

*Download via the links provided under Further Resources.  Methods, key findings and policy implications are provided below in brief - please download the brief for more detail and supporting graphics.

Methods and Tools

The MECLEP Haiti household survey was conducted in early 2015 in the capital of Port-au-Prince, in Les Gonaïves and La Marmelade. The three municipalities were selected because of their high vulnerability to environmental degradation and sudden-onset events, such as flooding (Les Gonaïves, 2004 and 2008), earthquake (Port-au-Prince, 2010) and deforestation (La Marmelade). The relationship between household vulnerability and different forms of human mobility was then analysed by the United Nations University Institute for Environmental Human Security (UNU-EHS).

The method of the Correlation Sensitive Poverty Index (Rippin, 2011), called Correlation Sensitive Vulnerability Index in this context, was used. This method allows combining the vulnerability index indicators without requiring arbitrary thresholds. In this research, the multidimensional vulnerability index used consists of six dimensions that are equally weighted and based on a set of 21 indicators (see table 1 on page 3 of the brief) (Milan, Gioli and Afifi, 2015).

Key Findings

  • Non-migrant households tend to belong to the most vulnerable households, while those who are relatively better off are more likely to migrate as part of their adaptive strategy.
  • The most resilient households constitute an exception; these are also less likely to migrate than households with closer-to-average vulnerability.
  • In the case of internal movements, households whose prevailing migratory form is internal displacement are associated with the highest vulnerability levels among households with internal migrants.
  • On the contrary, households whose prevailing migratory form is international displacement are the least vulnerable among households with international migrants.
  • When looking at the overall migration patterns (both internal and international), seasonal/recurrent migration seems to work better than any other form of migration, probably because social, financial and possibly in-kind remittances can be shared more regularly.

The results may indicate that cross-border movement as a result of displacement is an effective response in the context of natural disasters. However, the possibility that only the most resilient households can move internationally in the context of disasters cannot be excluded.

Further data analysis indicates that being part of a migrant household (household level), as well as being a migrant (individual level), are positively correlated with the likelihood of being employed and achieving higher levels of education. This further emphasizes the potential of a well-conceived migration policy, not only to minimize risks associated with different forms of mobility, but also to maximize the benefits associated with migration.

Policy implications

Based on the findings from the recent survey on migration and displacement in Haiti, the following recommendations can be made:

  1. Recognizing, in particular, internal migration as one of several positive adaptation strategies and fostering its potential: While seasonal and circular movements represent the most successful adaptation strategy through internal movements, the majority of households moved permanently, meaning at least once a year. Through this mobility, they are more vulnerable than other migrants. Therefore, dealing with migration as a development issue would benefit the migrants; their households and communities of origin and destination. In particular, internal migration needs to be integrated in development and urban planning (cf. Sherwood et al., 2014), as international migrants tend to be less vulnerable.
  2. Preventing and reducing displacement risks: Those displaced internally by natural disasters are among the most vulnerable. Circular or seasonal labour migration schemes could help reduce displacement risks by diversifying income sources and increasing resilience, as could a planned relocation of the internally displaced from camps (Courbage et al., 2013).
  3. A gendered approach: Female-headed households were found to be considerably more at risk than those headed by men. Migration, development, climate change and disaster risk reduction policies should thus, in particular, aim to support women and their families.

Further resources