Green walls and economic opportunities to migrate

During my work for UNIDO, I used to have a pretty good overview of Latin American projects in the GEF, the global environmental facility. Today, I read an editorial piece about the unintended impacts of ‘green walls’ made to stop desertification, financed through GEF.

This piece is impressively reflected and balanced, and reminded me very much about the insights and many questions that I arrived at during my Ph.D. research.

asks the question, if the added income opportunities provided to people through international projects such as the building of a green wall, will actually motivate people to stay, of if it will actually facilitate their move to Europe?

It adds the discussion that right wing conservatives seem to hate. Can we actually stop people from moving where they want to? And is this really something we should aim at? What does even having this aim, lead to? Are all our short-sighted efforts simply adding to the ever increasing global socio-economic divide which makes it stupid to even ask why people will come to look for better oportunities?

Filipovic’s writing is a deepening of the discourse led by Alexander Betts and Paul Collier also in the Guardian, highlighting the need to work on local industrialisation and work opportunities for refugees in the neigbouring countries of countries at war. Her trying to identify a more nuanced view of what makes people migrate and what income does, illustrates a need to work even harder to develop global solutions. Most refugees I interviewed during my research, simply wanted to live in modern cities, for example. While increasing amounts of research funding is focusing on urban areas, the call to ‘leave no one behind’ highlights that the poorest and most vulnerable people are left in agricultural border areas, while these want to migrate to western cities due to family ties and increased standards of living. Dealing with the enormous differences in standards of living for people in urban and in agricultural and pastoral areas, is a major issue to deal with development potential for countries such as Ethiopia, for example. In order to deal with deforestation, lack of water and to make these areas prospereus, we need to focus more on country level strategies as a humanitarian community. Our research efforts need to take this into account also as measures to end chronic emergencies in certain areas.

It is facinating, how humans build large systems such as the humanitarian system and global environment alliances, thinking that we can impact something very presicely. And it is even more facinating, the unintended effects these short-sighted actions have. But as this piece very well illustrates, we can often find the most fundamental insights about human behaviour and abilities if we study these unintended effects. For example, that people will always look for opportunities to live in safety. Understanding that economic stability and equal distribution of wealth is one of the core aspects of safety for individuals, families and communities, is one of those.


About Brita Fladvad Nielsen

I'm a Postdoctoral researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. My focus is on Smart Energy Communities in urban settings as well as design of energy-devices for emergency settings and design for humanitarian markets, especially for refugee camps in rural areas of Africa. I blog about my research approach Design Thinking on and about humanitarian design at . I am also a mother of a child who is deaf, and I blog about her language development on
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1 Response to Green walls and economic opportunities to migrate

  1. Hi
    Visit my design research portal at – I will post about design for selfreliance asap. Kind regards!

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