Study: Climate change increases risk of migrants dying en route to U.S.

·Senior Climate Editor
·2 min read

The trek across the desert in northern Mexico and the southwestern United States has always been treacherous due to high temperatures and a scarcity of water, but now climate change is making it more deadly, according to a new study.

A report published this month in the journal Science, found that climate change is exacerbating the dangers that migrants encounter on their journey.

The main cause of death among migrants entering the United States through its southern border is dehydration, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Since higher average global temperatures lead to more extreme waves, more evaporation and more severe droughts, the risk of death among migrants is increasing. At least 650 people died while trying to cross the border this year, according to the International Organization for Migration. That’s the highest number of any year since an agency began counting migrant deaths in 2014.

Crosses left by border activists mark the locations of remains of migrants who died trying to cross into the United States. Jan. 24, 2021 in the Altar Valley, Ariz. (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)
Crosses left by border activists mark the locations of remains of migrants who died trying to cross into the United States. Jan. 24, 2021 in the Altar Valley, Ariz. (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

The study’s authors found that the locations where migrants die in an often traveled area between Nogales, Mexico and Three Point, Ariz. are concentrated in places with the greatest predicted evaporated water loss. Even the lowest end of the estimated evaporative water loss is enough to cause severe dehydration and potentially lead to death.

“We find that migrants’ journey will become significantly more dangerous over the next 30 years,” said Reena Walker, a graduate student in wildlife sciences at the University of Idaho and co-lead author of the study, in a press release.

Border Patrol Agent Jacob Stukenberg with Guatemalan migrant Misael Paiz
Border Patrol Agent Jacob Stukenberg with Guatemalan migrant Misael Paiz, 25, who died in Pima County, Ariz., Sept. 10, 2018. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

The study also found that the amount of drinking water carried by a typical migrant won’t prevent severe dehydration, and that the gap between how much water most people carry and how much they will need will widen due to climate change. These dangerous journeys will also likely become more common, as droughts in Central America lead to increased migration to the United States.

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