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Climate Refugees: Pain of Unseen Victims

Climate change is taking place fast with increasing temperatures, rising sea levels, erratic weather, loss of biodiversity and damaged ecosystems. Millions of people are suffering from damage to their lands, agriculture, livelihood systems and threat to life. Living conditions are becoming treacherous with each passing day.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reminded that on an average 21.5 million people are forcibly leaving their places annually for climate-related events like wildfires, floods, storms and high-temperature rises since 2008.

Also Read: Extreme Heatwaves: India Facing the Hottest Summers Since 112 Years

Even the international think tank Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP) predicted that by the year 2050, 1.2 billion people would be affected and displaced by natural disasters and climate change.

Climate refugees are the people who are forced to cross the border of their countries due to the unavailability of clean water, food, livelihood and a place to live. As we see how people of  Central American countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala were hit by massive hurricanes and forced to leave their places and arrived at border areas of the US and Mexico for safe living places.

Five countries with the most new displacements by disasters in 2019

Image Source: IDMC

Chain Effects of Natural Disasters

The impact of climate change is generally related to short-term relief and measures for the people who are affected by the havoc and disaster caused by weather events. But in a true sense, these natural disasters are a permanent and a huge cause of concern for people around the world susceptible to natural disasters.

Climate risks basically have chain effects and cause huge havoc on multiple aspects of life and livelihood.

Natural disaster generally limits access to safe water and food and cause diseases due to unhygienic conditions. Further damaged lands lead to loss of livelihoods and agricultural damage which causes food shortages and hunger threats.

Also Read: Terrifying effects of Climate Change are Threatening Humanity

Hunger and thrift forced people to migrate and even cause refugee problems.

Climate change has a long-term effect not only on the people but on the overall culture, societies and economies beyond just displacement of people.

For example, sea-level rise has already distressed and destroyed a number of coastal communities and forced them to leave to other places leaving behind their agricultural lands, homes, and way of living.

Rising water level

Rising seas and increasingly violent storms have wreaked havoc on small island nations like Tuvalu. Photo credit: Vlad Sokhin

90% of people in coastal areas are generally poor people and living in poor or developing nations and island nations.

Bangladesh is a nation that is being predicted to be submerged up to 17% by the year 2050 by the rise of sea level and almost 20 million people will lose their homes.

These people generally move to other places and earn meagre wages as unskilled labourers.

Children of such people are also forced to become child labourers without opportunities for education, skills or training to lead a quality life.

Also Read: Dark Life of Child Labour Behind the Shinning Mica

They are forced to live in ghettos and untidy and unhygienic conditions.

Damaged costal area house

A damaged temporary home near the Meghna River in Bangladesh, in a coastal area threatened by erosion and rising salt water levels in the soil. Credit: Zakir Hossain Chowdhury/Barcroft Media/Getty

Even cities and towns where they fled face an influx of more people and hence pressure on infrastructure and services.

Correlation Between Climate Change and Conflict Migration

UNHCR’s report Global Trends in Forced Displacement 2020, brings the shocking fact that 95% of all conflict displacement occurred in those countries which are vulnerable to natural disasters and climate change.

In view of this threat, international governments started to recognize the existence and effects of climate change migration.

U.S. President Joe Biden released the Report on the Impact of Climate Change on Migration in November 2021 and first time agreed with the link between climate change and migration.

This report finds the linkages between climate change and international security, conflicts, geopolitics and instability. Further, it calls for an urgent need to establish policies and strategies to develop safe, proactive and humane management for climate migration flow.

Response to Climate Migrants and Refugees

  1. Creating Economic Opportunities

One of the most important measures to help the climate-affected people is to create sustainable and viable economic opportunities for the communities at their places or the places of their migration.

In Bangladesh, cyclonic floods have caused salinity in more than 50% of farmlands. Agricultural output and earnings of farmers were affected badly for this reason. Hence, in such situations, government and NGOs can give training, skills and resources to adapt climate-resistant practices and crops to achieve a sustainable livelihood and safety of food.

  1. Recognition of Refugee Status

Climate refugees must be given the same status as those who fled the conflicts.

The Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, adopted by the UN in 2018 clearly accept that one of the major factors of migration is climate change. The regulation asked nations to formulate

Plans for visas and relocation of climate refugees and help them if the return of these migrants is not possible.

A clear definition of climate refugees and their inclusion in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees is the need of the hour so as to protect these forgotten victims of climate change.

  1. Climate Financing

Funding is required to achieve a climate-neutral, resource efficient, climate-resilient and just economy by 2050.

Climate finance is required to reduce greenhouse gases, mitigate efforts, and adapt climate-resilient practices.

At the United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen, World’s wealthy nations pledged climate financing of $100 billion by 2020 but they are still short billions of dollars annually.

  1. Strict implementation of the Paris Agreement

Countries have to come together to reduce the temperature below 2° Celsius(c) and ideally to 1.5°c.

  1. Responsibilities of Carbon Generating and Industrial Nations.

Rich industrial nations like the US, Japan, Canada and most of Europe are responsible for generating more than 50% of all generated global warming greenhouse gases, from fossil fuels and rapid industrialization, over the past 170 years, with just 12% of the world population.

Hence, it becomes a responsibility of these developed and rich nations to help poor nations and affected people financially and technologically.

After all, they have resources and stability which they can lend to their peer nations and make them sustainable enough to live life with dignity.

Not to Forget

We all need to act collectively and fast to manage climate change threats. It is the responsibility of all national and international government bodies, non-governmental organizations, and each responsible citizen to adopt climate-friendly measures.

Also Read: Healing Ozone Layer: Time to be Hopeful About Climate Change

We are the global citizens in the sense that climate effects and their vulnerability cannot be seen and felt in silos.

Natural disasters have domino effects.

It is an irony that nature does not see the difference between people and places. It can create havoc for all without discrimination if not treated with care.

Remember, together we can make an impact!