Social Vulnerability Shapes the Experiences of Climate Migrants Displaced by Hurricane Maria
Published in: Climate and Development (2023). doi: 10.1080/17565529.2023.2176188
Posted on RAND.org on February 21, 2023
Climate change-related shocks and stresses are prompting the movement of hundreds of thousands. The purpose of this study is to understand the experiences of climate change migrants, people displaced from these crises from the initial impacts of the hazard to their recent arrivals in a new location. To do so we draw on focus group discussions with Puerto Ricans in South and Central Florida displaced by 2017 Hurricane Maria. We document the factors leading up to the hurricane that shaped their preparedness, their relocation decisions, and their post-relocation experiences in the initial seven months following the hurricane. We find that for these Puerto Ricans, underlying neglect, discrimination, and other social processes transformed Maria from a hazard to a disaster with devastating economic, social, and physical and mental health effects, while also creating challenges in early recovery. However, migrants were also able to draw on their faith, community and educational institutions, and new neighbours as sources of strength and coping. We argue that since these factors are socially produced, a vulnerability perspective is critical to understanding the experiences of climate migrants. We draw on this perspective to conclude with research and policy implications.