North-South Centre

Public lecture

Organised by the North-South Centre and the Institute for Environmental Decisions

Environmentally forced migration and drought in Mexico

Prof. Dr. Úrsula Oswald Spring, National University of Mexico


Wednesday, December 9, 2009
16:00 – 17:00 h
ETH Zurich, Rämistrasse 101, HG F 33.1

Programme flyer (PDF, 82 KB)

Curriculum vitae
Since 1998, Úrsula Oswald Spring has been a full time professor/researcher at the National University of Mexico (UNAM) in the Regional Multidisciplinary Research Center (CRIM) and the first MunichRe Foundation Chair on Social Vulnerability at the United National University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) for 2005-2009. As Minister of Ecological Development in the State of Morelos (1994-1998) she planted over 30 million trees, promoted environmental education from childhood on and produced drinking water for the whole population with a reduction of 65% in infant mortality due to water-born illnesses. Úrsula Oswald Spring studied medicine, clinical psychology, anthropology, ecology, classical and modern languages and obtained her Ph.D from the University of Zürich (1978).


Due to the worst drought in the last 70 years, environmentally ‘forced’ migration has increased in Mexico in 2009. The loss of natural fertility of soils as a result of land degradation and desertification, together with an increase in the importation of subsidised cereals, destroyed the livelihood of many peasants depending on rain-fed agriculture. Thus, migration in drylands has to be understood as a complex, multi-causal and interactive phenomenon, often with nonlinear outcomes that can destroy family and community life and increase social vulnerability of women.

Environmental and social problems have added to the complexity of reasons for international migration and, consequently, to the number of illegal immigrants in the USA. The repression of the Border Patrol with improved surveillance system forces migrants to link with the organised crime or to cross through a dangerous desert. This increases the vulnerability of people, as well as corruption and criminality on both sides of the border, and creates geopolitical conflicts between the USA and Mexico. It also obliges both countries to fight against organised crime. The erosion of social cohesion and networks related to migration, the loss of livelihood, the illegal crossing with the help of transnational criminal gangs, and the US policy of deportation has created a situation of low intensity war.

Cooperation instead of repression, and development activities that improve livelihood and environmental services in remote rural areas could avoid the rise of criminal behaviour. Above all, the creation of jobs for young people and a strong social and environmental policy in Mexico would reduce criminal activities and open a potential for both countries to peacefully live together.


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