Friday, November 15, 2013

Climate Refugees: “Crossing the Sahara on Foot”

Africa has seen some extremes in climate disasters – the flooding last year contrasted with the recent droughts.  In 2012, I visited Kenya and wrote about the impacts of climate change on the Maasai.  At a side event on Climate Migrants this week, one of the African delegates in the audience talked about the strong ties Africans have to the land. He noted that “no young person wants to leave their ancestral land, but they are having no choice.  Young people are trying to cross the Sahara on foot – to get to Europe. “ 

The IPCC report of 1990 acknowledged that migration might be the greatest single consequence of climate change, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that “by 2050, between 250 million and one billion people might be forced to move due to climate change.”  Ziaul Haque Mukta, Regional Policy Coordinator from Oxfam Asia, gave the keynote talk, starting by highlighting recent forced migration events: Philippines (Typhoon Haiyan: 600,000 evacuated, over 10 million people affected); Papua New Guinea (Carteret Islands: 1000 permanently relocated due to storm erosion and salt water intrusion); India (Lohachara Island: 10,000 evacuated due to island being entirely submerged); Bangladesh (Bhola Island, 500,000 homeless due to half of island being submerged).  In the United States, Hurricane Katrina temporarily displaced over a million people in 2005.

Currently, migration is part of the Loss and Damage discussion, but the panel urged that Climate Forced Migration should be treated as a stand alone issue with its own legal framework.  They called on the developed countries to “own up to their historic responsibility,” referring to historic greenhouse gas emissions.  They continued: “We can no longer wait. …  Justice demands that, and they have to be fair to all.“

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