From grassroots to scale: Urban responses to climate migration and protracted displacement

Do climate-displaced people living in Kenya's cities participate in urban social movements?

Ongoing | Research

About the research agenda

From grassroots to scale: Urban responses to climate migration and protracted displacement

As protracted displacement increasingly mirrors the global trend towards rapid urbanization (60% of refugees and at least 80% of internally displaced people now live in cities) and regions become increasingly climate unstable (up to one-third of the Earth’s population could live in uninhabitable areas by 2070), there is urgent need to investigate the promise and challenges of an urban developmental response to displacement.

Building on emerging research on the interrelationship between forced migration and urbanization (e.g. Earle et al (2021) When Displacement Meets Urbanization; IIED (2021) Protracted Displacement in an Urban World; Mayors Migration Council (2021) Cities, Climate and Migration; Saliba (2018) Urban Refuge; Landau et al (2016) Becoming Urban Humanitarians), it is urgent to explore—in addition to local governance and legal tools—how people experiencing protracted displacement in urban communities might tap into and even strengthen existing social infrastructure (e.g. the practices of grassroots, urban poor federations) to improve their access to shelter, basic services, and land tenure. And, as the intersecting climate and displacement crises become increasingly global issues—crossing both national borders and North-South divides—we should learn about and adapt inclusive solutions from frontline actors—the urban poor, displaced people in cities, and local governments in the Global South.

About this project

Do climate-displaced people living in Kenya's cities participate in urban social movements?

I am pursuing this project as the first step in the larger research agenda (outlined above) to begin assessing the landscape of research and practice in the field. To expand on this projectand support the research agenda long-term—I am also applying to PhD programs.

In partnership with the Akiba Mashinani Trust and Muungano wa Wanavijiji in Kenya, I am collecting interview and survey data from displaced people living in informal settlements in Nairobi, Nakuru, and other cities.

While the practices of federations in Kenya’s informal settlements have proven successful for established residents to negotiate with planning authorities and offered a common learning platform to reconcile differences between households, it is not understood how well they serve displaced, newcomer populations. Given that displaced people are often stigmatized and face even greater housing, services and livelihood challenges than established host populations, these practices could represent a critical lifeline (in particular for women). However, even though this existing social infrastructure might prove a valuable resource—and perhaps even improve social cohesion and broaden the base of urban poor social movements—I hypothesize that it is difficult for displaced people to access (due to local hostility, cultural barriers, and the ‘in limbo’ nature of protracted displacement itself).

My questions, therefore, are: (1) With the inevitable overload of our institutions and infrastructure due to climate and displacement crises—exacerbated by shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic—are there aspects of proven grassroots strategies that we can employ from cities like Nairobi, adapting them to serve displaced populations and to new contexts? And, (2) more specifically, among displaced households living in informal settlements: (a) how many participate in local savings groups; (b) to what degree and with what outcomes; and (c) what practices aid or impair meaningful participation?

Research proposal

Check out the DRAFT proposal document below for details on the project, including context, research questions, methods, etc

Research proposal: Do climate-displaced people living in cities participate in urban social movements?