Climate Refugees – Today’s New Reality

Posted on 22 June 2012 by admin

Fabíola Ortiz

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jun 22 (TerraViva) The continued exodus of Somalis to Kenya and Ethiopia has fuelled the debate on a new issue of global concern: climate refugees, driven from their homes and across borders by extreme weather events.

Climate refugees in East Africa. Credit: UNHCR

Massive displacement of people in some parts of Africa, especially the eastern part of the continent, is caused by lengthy periods of drought, famine and armed conflict. One illustration of this is the flood of people leaving Somalia since late 2010.

The issue has caused deep concern in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which launched the report “Climate Change, Vulnerability and Human Mobility” at the Rio+20 climate conference on Thursday Jun. 21.

Social organisations are highly disappointed by the outcome document of the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, which has drawn heads of state from around 130 countries to Rio de Janeiro and ends Friday.

The UNHCR report, presented in the Riocentro, the conference venue, is based on the personal testimonies of 150 refugees and internally displaced people in Ethiopia and Uganda, and assesses global trends of forced displacement and their relation with climate change and natural disasters.

The growing number of climate refugees gives new urgency to the need for climate change mitigation and adaptation measures in areas far away from the parts of the world that are most affected by the phenomenon, such as Africa.

Protesters around the world took to the streets this week to mark World Refugee Day Jun. 20 and demand that the international community do more to address the growing humanitarian problem.

The report presented by U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres was produced by the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security in partnership with the UNHCR, the London School of Economics (LSE) and the University of Bonn.

The rector of the U.N. University, Konrad Osterwalder, said “The report highlights how important it is to understand the real experiences of vulnerable people with environmental stressors today.”

“This report confirms what we have been hearing for years from refugees,” said Guterres. “They did everything they could to stay at home, but when their last crops failed, their livestock died, they had no option but to move; movement which often led them into greater harm’s way.

“I am convinced that climate change will increasingly be a driver in worsening displacement crises in the world. It is very important for the world to come together to respond to this challenge,” he said.

UNHCR spokesman in Brazil Luiz Fernando Godinho told TerraViva that although there is still no clear definition of what constitutes a “climate refugee”, what is important to understand is that climate-related phenomena are driving more and more people from their homes and countries.

“The UNHCR has issued a call at Rio+20 for (the world) to pay more attention to the existence of refugees who have been displaced by extreme climate changes,” he said. “The international community has not come up with a set of measures or agreements to give guarantees to people who are driven from their homes by natural disasters.”

There are some 15 million refugees in the world today, 10 million of whom are under the UNHCR’s mandate. But it is impossible to determine how many of them were displaced by natural disasters and climate-related phenomena.

Somalia alone, which has the third largest displaced population in the world, has 1.1 million refugees living in neighbouring countries, three times the 2004 total. They were driven out of the country by a combination of armed conflict, drought and famine.

  • windy2

    The simplest research on East African drought yields information that drought has occurred constantly in the past centuries in this area and has been far worse than modern drought. Climate change is a convenient scapegoat for ignoring the REAL problem which is the explosion of uncontrolled population growth in the area. Blaming climate change is an excuse for failed policy and responsible/sustaiable use of local and regional resources. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that overpopulation leads to overuse of the already limited resources in the region. The notion that somehow the rest of the world is responsible for the ignorance, disregard and long term stupidity displayed by waring factions in a small geographic area is sad but in the end it is a self-inflicted disaster. The fact that the UN is using these people as political pawns by trying to make Western Nations feel guilty rather than seek real solutions to deal with their self-inflicted predicament is a crime. It is time to strip the politicing away and be frank and honest in that if the UN was capable of resolving the mess in this area, they would have. The fact is that the UN has failed to apply any real solutions to he overpopulation problem and still aren’t. Dragging climate change into the problem is a smokescreen and nothing more than an excuse for failure to implement real solutions. This a population growth problem not a climate change problem and anyone who doesn’t recognize this is lying to themselves and aren’t really interested in fixing the problem.

  • Janearther

    Same talking point response. “Droughts always happen.” That is already known. The difference now is that droughts that were one 10 years apart are now 5 years apart and lasting longer due to rising sea surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean.
    (This is also occurring in the Atlantic as well.) The frequency, pace and severity of
    droughts here have all increased. Denial of this is simply a convenient scapegoat to turn a blind eye to those poorer people of the world experiencing these effects
    on a more pronounced scale. People truly need to read the science instead of the industry propaganda peddled on the Internet by PR firms. We are talking about real lives here, not some political agenda.

  • windy2

    Jane you are playing the denier card and offer no scientific evidence. Let me help you understand why you are wrong by looking at paleoclimate research that indicates that past African drought was far worse than today. Here is the research headline.

    ‘Megadroughts in Sub-Saharan Africa Normal for the Region’

    “Devastating droughts worse than the infamous Sahel drought are part of the normal climate regime for sub-Saharan West Africa, according to new research from a University of Arizona-led team.

    For the first time, researchers have developed an almost year-by-year record of the last 3,000 years of West Africa’s climate. In that period, catastrophic droughts occurred every 30 to 65 years, and the pattern can be expected to continue in the future, the team reports.

    “What’s disconcerting about this record is that it suggests that the most recent drought was relatively minor in the context of the West African drought history,” said first author Timothy M. Shanahan, who conducted the research while he was a doctoral student at the UA in Tucson.

    The Sahel drought, which began in the late 1960s and continued for several decades, killed at least 100,000 people and displaced many more.
    “What’s really striking about droughts in this area is that they last such a long time,” Shanahan said. “You have droughts that last 30 to 60 years, and then some that last four times as long.”

    The region has undergone multicentury droughts, most recently from 1400 A.D. to 1750 A.D., the researchers found.”

    So the climate scientists and I, the ones that you label as deniers, believe in scientific evidence that shows muliple decadal droughts, several multi-century droughts and a drought lasting 350 years in Africa’s recent past and find that past drought was far worse than today. I await your scietific evidence that will prove that the scientists and I are deniers? I am anxious to forward it to Jonathan Overpeck and let him know he is a denier.

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