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Jul 262012
 

Rezaul Karim Chowdhury is from Kutubdia, a Bangladeshi island in the Bay of Bengal. When Chowdhury was younger, the palm-dotted tropical island spanned 65 square kilometers, but rising sea levels and erosion have since shrunk it by more than half, to only 25 square kilometers. With their land and homes submerged, more than 40,000 residents of Kutubdia have fled to sandbars near the mainland town of Coxsbazar, where they endure slum conditions and the constant threat of eviction. Chowdhury manages a development organization on Kutubdia, and although he wishes he could help the island’s displaced people, he is forced to ignore their pleas, as he can offer no solution.

Villagers return to their homes after a flood in Bihar, India (Photo via Flickr, by balazsgardi)

As climate change intensifies, it will continue to displace vulnerable peoples, like those in Kutubdia, as sea levels rise and as extreme weather brings devastating floods, droughts, and other disasters. The London-based Environmental Justice Foundation reports that around 26 million people worldwide have already had to move due to the effects of climate change, a figure that could grow to 150 million by 2050. The group estimates that as many as 500 to 600 million people—nearly 10 percent of the world’s population—are at risk from displacement.

Villages in the Arctic are facing the effects of thawing permafrost, among other challenges. In Newtok, on Alaska’s western coast, the melting permafrost and rising sea expose the village to sanitation problems as local sewage facilities are damaged and the previously frozen earth becomes unstable, causing houses to collapse. Additionally, the village’s water supply is in danger of being contaminated by seawater. In the face of these dramatic challenges, the village is preparing for the future and has identified a relocation site nine miles south. But a lack of funding and coordination has made relocation and adaptation efforts difficult.

Extreme weather, encroaching seas, and desertification are the leading drivers behind the surge in “climate refugees” worldwide, commonly defined as those who flee their homes and ways of life due to factors related to climate change.

In Mongolia, an estimated quarter of the population has fled to shanty towns near the urban center of Ulan Bator to find work, as residents’ traditional nomadic existence is threatened by long, cold winters and desertification caused by climate change and overgrazing. Throughout Asia and Africa, millions of livestock have died in extremely harsh winters and dry summers. In the planet’s far northerly regions, reindeer herders are encumbered by swampy land and changing migration patterns due to altered freezing and thawing cycles.

Climate Risk and Resilience: Securing the Region’s Future (Photo via Flickr, by Asian Development Bank)

As climate change takes its toll around the world, global society is faced with the question of how to adapt to changing conditions, and how to assist climate refugees. Societies must also address issues of managing and allocating limited land and other resources as the human population increases, driving demand ever upward.

The border between India and Bangladesh, for example, is already an area of conflict, and the Indian government recently erected a 3,000 kilometer fence to keep climate refugees from migrating to India. While India argues that it does not have the capacity to accept these immigrants, Bangladeshis view India as one of their only refuges to escape the rising seas. Negotiations will be necessary to ensure that plans are in place for this large-scale movement of displaced people.

As more people become climate refugees, the world must provide humanitarian aid and legal protection to these people, who had little role in contributing to the problem in the first place. One of the tragedies of climate change is that impoverished and disenfranchised people will bear the consequences of actions executed by wealthy nations. Therefore, it is the responsibility of developed nations to mitigate the effects of climate change as much as possible.

(Written by Alison Singer; Edited by Antonia Sohns)

  9 Responses to “Climate Refugees: A Human Cost of Climate Change”

  1. Hello and thank you for this article. So-called environmentally induced migration is multi-level problem. According to Essam El-Hinnawi definition form 1985 environmental refugees as those people who have been forced to leave their traditional habitat, temporarily or permanently, because of a marked environmental disruption (natural or triggered by people) that jeopardised their existence and/or seriously affected the quality of their life. The fundamental distinction between `environmental migrants` and `environmental refugees` is a standpoint of contemporsry studies in EDPs.

    According to Bogumil Terminski it seems reasonable to distinguish the general category of environmental migrants from the more specific (subordinate to it) category of environmental refugees.

    Environmental migrants, therefore, are persons making a short-lived, cyclical, or longerterm change of residence, of a voluntary or forced character, due to specific environmental factors. Environmental refugees form a specific type of environmental migrant.

    Environmental refugees, therefore, are persons compelled to spontaneous, short-lived, cyclical, or longer-term changes of residence due to sudden or gradually worsening changes in environmental factors important to their living, which may be of either a short-term or an irreversible character.

    According to Norman Myers environmental refugees are “people who can no longer gain a secure livelihood in their homelands because of drought, soil erosion, desertification, deforestation and other environmental problems, together with associated problems of population pressures and profound poverty”.

  2. [...] changes are happening today, and will grow more severe with time. Climate change has already led to dramatic changes within nomadic and coastal communities. Agricultural systems are being forced to accommodate the changing weather and climate patterns, or [...]

  3. [...] changes are happening today, and will grow more severe with time. Climate change has already led to dramatic changes within nomadic and coastal communities. Agricultural systems are being forced to accommodate the changing weather and climate patterns, or [...]

  4. [...] are happening today, and will grow more severe with time. Climate change has already led to dramatic changes within nomadic and coastal communities. Agricultural systems are being forced to accommodate the changing weather and climate patterns, or [...]

  5. [...] on blogs.worldwatch.org Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like [...]

  6. The Problems in Bangladesh are not new. Since the division of Pakistan to West and East and the subservient name change to Bangladesh , people die there from starvation and the elements.The elevation of the land is about zero above sea level. The problem, of course is people themselves and I do not mean fossil fuel. People live near water. Nearly every major city in the world was founded by its proximity to a river or access to the sea. I remain unconvinced that all “disastrous events” are to be blamed humanity itself – except for its unconscious motivations. “Most men are controlled by forces of which they know little and understand less. We think it “scientific” to compare today’s conditions to conditions recorded no longer than 150 years ago. Homo erectus appeared on the planet 2M years ago or more.This is the year of solar maximum. I remember the last one, with blazing heat and smog. A well known scientist whose name I have forgotten wrote, “Either we must control our population or nature will do it for us and nature’s ways can be unpleasant. I sign off and hope to sleep tonight

  7. [...] Recent studies indicate that hundreds of millions of people will become climate refugees in the next half-century.  And they won’t all be in Bangladesh or the Maldives, either.  Just ask a former resident of Breezy Point in New York City, devastated by Hurricane Sandy, how it feels. [...]

  8. [...] Recent studies indicate that hundreds of millions of people will become climate refugees in the next half-century.  And they won’t all be in Bangladesh or the Maldives, either.  Just ask a former resident of Breezy Point in New York City, devastated by Hurricane Sandy, how it feels. [...]

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