Is climate migration successful adaptation or maladaptation? A holistic assessment of outcomes in Kenya

Amit Tubi*, Yael Israeli

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Research is increasingly approaching migration as an adaptation to climate risk. Yet our understanding of the migration-adaptation nexus remains limited, as most studies conceptualize migration as either adaptive or maladaptive and focus on specific aspects of vulnerability. To advance a comprehensive understanding of migration's successful and maladaptive effects, this study employs a two-dimensional conceptualization of migration outcomes, encompassing a range of vulnerability variables at the migrant and household levels and migrants’ well-being. This framework is applied to the case of drought-influenced migration from agro-pastoralist northern Kenya to the City of Nairobi. Based on semi-structured interviews with 40 long-term migrants, we identify quantitative and qualitative migration-induced changes in the examined variables. The results highlight the complexity of migration outcomes. Effects on the broad range of variables comprising vulnerability's exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity components are mixed. Migrants’ ability to provide their families’ basic needs has improved, although only half of the households could allocate remittances to reconstruct their drought-stricken livelihood sources in northern Kenya. Moreover, the profound change in social-environmental settings induced by migration exposed migrants to unfamiliar risks, such as urban crime, but also to new sources of adaptive capacity, such as knowledge enabling the development of climate-insensitive livelihoods. However, migration's partial success in reducing vulnerability came at the expense of migrants’ well-being, which diminished drastically. These findings stress the need for fundamental changes in the migration-as-adaptation literature, including a more thorough engagement with the temporalities and scope of migration's effects on adaptation, greater attention to the tradeoffs that are integral to migration as adaptation, and a shift to analytical frameworks that consider maladaptive effects alongside successful ones. We argue that these changes are essential to develop interventions that maximize migration's adaptive potential while minimizing its maladaptive effects.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number100614
JournalClimate Risk Management
StatePublished - Jan 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024


  • Climate change
  • Drought
  • Maladaptation
  • Migration
  • Successful adaptation
  • Vulnerability


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