In the occasion of the conference on environmental migration and the conflicts over the control of blue gold, GVC Italia presented the report “Hands on water”, prepared by GVC and the Master in Water Resource Management in the International Cooperation of Milano Bicocca University.

The report highlights how climate change – associated with a nefarious management of water – is producing devastating effects particularly in developing countries, countries that mainly live from agriculture, a source of food and income.

Without water there is no food, no health, and no work. When everything is missing, competition grows, conflicts arise and – if nothing is done – the only possible choice is to migrate. Are they voluntary or forced migrations? What results this people produce in the communities of origin and those of arrival?

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) claims that in 2050 about 4 billion people could live in areas suffering from water scarcity and the Word Economic Forum has identified the “water crisis” among the greatest global risks.

The NGO considers that a reflection on the management of water resources and on their exploitation is fundamental and urgent, due in part also to the conflicting management of large river basins, the construction of massive dams, the privatization of land and water at the expense of native communities to over-exploit the springs.

The Cambodian migration

The Mekong crosses the Tibetan plateau in China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, influencing the lives of at least half of the people of the countries of South East Asia, their agriculture, in particular the production of rice (Thailand and Vietnam, are the top two rice producers in the world) and the important fish industry (over 4.5 million tons produced each year).

The countries concerned have set up a committee for joint control of water management (the Mekong River Commission, in which Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam participate). However, the management is only partial because it depends on the flow of water controlled by China, which is not part of the Committee and which, through seven gigantic hydroelectric plants, currently exercises a very strong control over the entire flow of the river. During the drought that hit South East Asia in 2015 and 2016, Cambodia and Vietnam had to ask for the opening of the Chinese Mekong dams to have greater water supply.

Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in South East Asia, with lack of education, a fragile democratic system of government, decentralized institutions with scarce capacity, a judiciary system not fully adequate to enforce laws and protect rights and a heavy one legacy left by the Khmer Rouge regime, still difficult to overcome. The areas of the north-west of the country are among the most disadvantaged, dominated by subsistence agriculture with irrigation systems almost exclusively linked to seasonal rainfall trends, lack of innovative techniques and capital for investment. For most families the product of the land is not sufficient to meet basic needs and alternative possibilities of work for the many young people in the countryside, with little training, are precluded. For over 10 years, GVC has been working to help defeat poverty by insisting, in particular, on the creation of irrigation systems both with small two-family water collection facilities and by creating a network of channels to allow and improve the use of courses of minor water for the benefit of small farming with community management.

In recent years, working in communities, there have been two significant phenomena. On the one hand, the further crisis in agricultural production due to drought (El Niño in 2015 and 2016 hit the territories strongly due to lack of water and electricity), followed by destructive flooding phenomena. On the other hand, the progressive depopulation of the countryside, in particular by young people who migrate irregularly to the richer Thailand, a country in full expansion that absorbs labor and where the minimum salary – for those who follow regular routes – is by far higher than in the villages of origin. All the families of the more than 45 municipalities in which GVC works have at least one member who emigrated to Thailand. They are economic migrants also induced by a worsening of working conditions and income linked to climate change. The high costs and bureaucratic difficulties of migration push 80% of migrants to cross the border irregularly, entering – in a high percentage of cases – in an incredible grip on labor exploitation, housing conditions and extremely poor sanitation. If migration can be a driving force for growth, the challenge around which GVC offers its contribution is to increase awareness, promote practices and policies suitable for fostering safe migration, which can only be undertaken if it can be traced back to one of the feasible choices and not to the the only possible decision, as in most cases.

You can read the report, in italian, here.