• Bubacarr JAWO


Climate change and its impacts are major drivers of human mobility in the Gambia. Yet, it is possible to reduce displacement risk and migration and advance the wellbeing of both people and ecosystems through nature-based solutions (NbS). Addressing these challenges requires a combination of disaster preparedness, climate resilience measures, and adaptation strategies to mitigate their impacts and protect people with specific vulnerabilities, especially persons with disabilities, children, and women. The need to mitigate climate change and address displacement, and the role that nature can play in doing so, are recognized under multilateral agreements. This blog explores the role of NbS in addressing hydrological and meteorological hazards and human mobility in the Gambia. 

The Gambia is one of the smallest mainland countries in Africa by area (11,300 km2). It lies within the tropical sub-humid eco-climatic zone characterized by a long dry season from October to early June, and a short rainy season from mid-June to early October. The yearly rainfall averages between 850mm and 1,200mm. With an average elevation of 34m above sea level, The Gambia is one of the lowest-lying countries in the world. The highest elevation (Red Rock) reaches 53m above sea level. About 10% of the country is covered by the River Gambia and 20% by swampy areas and floodplains. Due to the topography of The Gambia, it is highly vulnerable to hydro-met hazards.

For the Gambia, floods constituted over 45 per cent of natural hazards between 1980 to 2020, storms 22.7 per cent and drought 13.6 per cent, according to a World Bank study. A significant hydrological event occurred in July 2010, causing severe flash flooding and thunderstorms in the country. This disaster resulted in 8,495 displacements, affecting 25,000 people, including 3,218 children under the age of five and 174 pregnant women, with one fatality. In 2022, sub-Saharan Africa witnessed 7.4 million new internal displacements due to disasters, primarily caused by storms and floods. Droughts and floods accounted for more than 80 per cent of disaster-related fatalities and 70 per cent of economic losses in the region. The Gambia, within a span of less than two weeks (30th and 31st July and 4th and 5th of August 2022), recorded 7,404 internally displaced persons from floods, as per the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) assessment report. This was the most recent catastrophic event that the country has faced in nearly half a century, recording 276mm of rainfall at the Banjul International Airport, Yundum. It led to critical infrastructure damage, including health facilities and schools, and disrupted transport networks. Thirteen fatalities were reported, with five children from the North Bank Region. A total of 50,378 people suffered as a direct consequence of the disaster with numerous health consequences such as diarrhea and skin rashes. 

In addition to waterborne diseases, the stagnant and slow receding waters were perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes, thus exacerbating malarial diseases among already vulnerable communities. The combination of heavy torrential rainfall, rising rivers and sea levels on the low-lying communities caused serious damage to planted crops and salt intrusion on farmlands. In turn, this impacted the production of rice, a salt-susceptible species. Rice farming has been totally stopped in Baniko Ismaila, a village in the Upper River Region of The Gambia due to continued flooding and salt intrusion. As wetlands are lost, so too are the protective benefits they offer in mitigating the impacts of floods and droughts. This represents a significant societal challenge and a threat to food security and malnutrition as rice is a staple food in the Gambia. 

This situation occurred as the country dealt with the worst levels of food insecurity in a decade prior to the disaster. According to the Cadre Harmonisé of 2021, the number of persons in food security "crisis" (IPC3) and "emergency" (IPC4) phases has doubled compared to prior years and was anticipated to reach 207,000 people (nearly 10% of Gambia’s population of 2.64m) during this lean season. It highlighted that one of the main drivers of food insecurity are the effects of adverse weather events (floods and strong windstorms) and Fall Army worm attacks on crops in some localized areas. Over 60 per cent of Gambians depend on agriculture for their livelihood, with women producing 40 per cent of total agricultural output.  Agriculture employs nearly half – 46% of the labor force and is a source of livelihood for 80% of the rural population

There is growing evidence of increasing rural-urban migration in the Gambia with young people representing the largest share of the population (55% are under the age of 25). In the Gambia, most agriculture is rain-fed, non-mechanized, and the timing of the agricultural seasons requires farmers to work year-round in temperatures exceeding 30°C. Many youths impacted by low crop productivity, crop failures and extreme temperatures due to climate change impacts migrate to urban centers in search of jobs, as farming becomes increasingly unproductive in the rural areas. Some even take the perilous journey across the harsh Sahara Desert and into the rough Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe. However, through the Gambia National Migration Policy (NMP) 2020-2030, the government is working to ensure that migration occurs in a safe and well managed manner and that it facilitates development in the country. 


Nature-based Solutions (NbS) have gained significant momentum in the international community to maximize the synergies between ecosystem health and human wellbeing, while also offering attractive economic benefits. NbS uses ecosystems and the services they provide to address societal challenges, such as food security, climate change, water security, human health, disaster risk, social and economic development. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines NbS as: “actions to protect, sustainably manage and restore natural or modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits”. Nature-based solutions can play a crucial role in protecting coastal marshes which provide multiple ecosystem services, including flood abatement, carbon and nutrient sequestration, water quality maintenance, and habitats for fish, shellfish, flora and fauna. 

Below are three case studies specifically in the Gambia in which Nature-based Solutions programming have contributed to boosting economic development and reducing disaster risk:

  1. In 2021, the Gambia Red Cross Society (GRCS) along with partners launched the Youth Ecobrigade: One Million Tree Planting Initiatives as part of its climate change mitigation efforts, aligned with the IFRC’s Pan-African Tree Planting and Care Initiative. Employing a community-based consultation approach, the initiative engaged local authorities and communities to understand the impacts of deforestation on livelihoods and ecosystems. The initiative identified reforestation areas, fostering community participation and ownership. Notably, 94,000 woodlots and 27,250 fruit trees were planted, holding significant potential to combat food insecurity, malnutrition, and generate employment for youth and women. The project involved 150,000 women and youth across 30 communities, offering training in sustainable forest management, early warning systems, clean energy eco-stoves, and supporting youth eco-entrepreneurs in seed production and nursery development. The project contributed to mangrove and wetland restoration, reinforced sustainable community forest management, and holds a great potential in reducing disasters, environmental degradation, and extreme weather events.
  2. Green-up Gambia is actively engaged in NbS programming, addressing the increasing impacts of climate change, disasters, and environmental degradation in the country. Through initiatives like the Green Gambia Initiative for Sustainable Future, Green-Up 1 Million Trees, and Green Streets projects, the organization is making significant contributions to carbon sequestration, biodiversity protection, and improving land degradation. These efforts underscore a commitment to building a sustainable future amid the challenges posed by climate-related events.
  3. The UN Environment Programme is supporting a groundbreaking project funded by the Green Climate Fund on NbS programming in the Gambia. This initiative is designed to restore agricultural landscapes, protect the environment, foster the development of a sustainable natural resource-based economy, and restore degraded ecosystems, including forests, mangroves, and savannahs – using climate-resilient trees and shrub species across an area of at least 10,000 hectares. The project aims to enhance the resilience of over 57,000 individuals to the adverse impacts of climate change, concurrently improving health, food and water security. Additionally, it is poised to bolster the livelihoods of local populations and communities. Over a 20-year period, the project anticipates generating cash returns exceeding US$75 million, with approximately US$11.3 million earmarked for the National Forest Fund through taxes and licensing fees.

Scaling up similar projects in the Gambia by the respective line ministries and agencies can offer opportunities to address key societal challenges, including disaster displacement and irregular migration. In the case of the Gambia, mangroves are particularly interesting - 40% of mangroves were lost due to fish smoking practices. Globally, mangroves reduce property damage by more than $US 65 billion and protect more than 15 million people every year. Mangroves can provide protective natural barriers and solutions against strong storms, floods, and coastal erosion, thus reducing disaster risk. They can filter water, provide food and timber resources for coastal communities, improve the cultivation of rice through salinity absorption and store huge amounts of carbon. They help provide nursery habitat for many commercial fish and shellfish, and thus contribute to the local abundance of seafood. Mangroves can also help create job opportunities in coastal communities especially for youths and women by restoring ecosystems. 

Key Points

  • The greatest single impact of climate change in The Gambia might be on human mobility – with thousands of Gambian youth leaving for urban areas and some taking precarious journeys to reach Europe. A large number of people are on the move because of slow and sudden-onset disasters and climate impacts.
  • People move because of shoreline erosion, coastal flooding, and low agricultural productivity linked to climate impacts. Flash flooding is one of the most frequent sudden-onset disasters and a well-known compelling contributing factor to the displacement of people from their homes during the rainy season, with temporary or long-term relocation to safer areas. Most of the victims are hosted by their families, friends, community members or in public places such as schools, etc. 
  • Married women who come from neighboring villages, move with their children to their parents' houses until their husbands restore the damaged properties or flood recede. There are provisions about planned relocation in the National Disaster law of the Gambia . However, relocation sites are not provided by the government in most cases but instead by international humanitarian organizations like IOM, OCHA and the Red Cross. Adding to that, desertification and drought in the Gambia’s peripheral regions are also driving displacement towards the low-lying urban areas of Greater Banjul. 
  • Nature-based solutions can help address degraded environmental and agricultural landscapes in The Gambia, including sustainable agriculture and rural development, ecosystems restoration and conservation, and climate resilience and disaster risk reductions. These measures help reduce the vulnerability of communities to climate-related risks and lower the risk of irregular migration and displacement, notably from rural to urban areas.

Key recommendations 

Looking at the future, national and local authorities in the Gambia could take concrete action to enable long term changes. This includes:  

  • Integrating nature-based solutions programming into national policy frameworks - (notably migration, agriculture and urban policies) since none exist on this nexus to address environmental challenges, enhance livelihoods, and create sustainable pathways for communities. These changes can help provide options for people to stay in safety and dignity in their areas of origin, notably by improving the availability and quality of livelihoods opportunities and reducing environmental degradation and disaster risk. 
  • Strengthen partnerships between the government, international organizations, private sector stakeholders, and local communities, including to mobilize funds and resources to support nature-based solutions. The UN Environment Programme and IFRC provide ready examples of what is possible in terms of the implementation of NbS in the Gambian context and represent options for possible partnership. 

Integrating gender equity and conflict sensitivity considerations into the design and implementation of NbS to create more sustainable, inclusive, and effective solutions that address migration challenges and contribute to the well-being of all community members.

About the author:

Bubacarr Jawo was an intern at the IOM Migration, Environment, Climate Change and Risk Reduction Division  Migration, Environment, Climate Change, and Risk Reduction Division in IOM HQ, from April 2023 to January 2024. Bubacarr graduated an MA in Migration, Climate Change, and Environment at Webster University with a focus on disaster risk reduction. Previously, Bubacarr worked for IOM Gambia on Displacement Tracking Matrix and some civil society organizations that promote the restoration of degrading forest and agricultural landscapes in The Gambia. 

Blog banner: IOM Sub-Office in Gambia doing a Tree Planting Exercise with migrant returnees in the Upper River Region (URR) of The Gambia © IOM Gambia 2023

SDG 13 - Climate Action