Millions of people around the world have been forced to move from their homes due to extreme climate conditions and are exposed and trapped in the uncertainty and agony of daily survival.
The research evidence on this issue is not at all favorable. The Global Internal Transport Report shows that the numbers of forced journeys due to the climate crisis are rising alarmingly. In 2019, 24 million people were forced to leave their homes due to extreme weather conditions, a 48% increase from 16.1 million in 2018.
It is true that the evidence on climate migration is still limited, as the causes of population movements are not always clear. It is, however, imperative that it should seriously occupy the agenda of policy makers around the world. If we were to summarize 5 key points about climate migration that we should all bear in mind, they would be the following:
The intensification of weather events such as rainfall, floods, droughts and the effects of climate change, such as desertification and sea level rise, may force people living in vulnerable zones to leave their homes. Significantly, climate-induced migration in 2019 was three times higher than migration due to conflict and violence.
It is the inhabitants of the countries that are geographically most vulnerable, with fragile ecosystems and low adaptation to emergencies, who will have to decide whether to leave their place, often without the resources to do so. Rajo from Pakistan has been forced to move three times in a few years: “Each move has had a huge impact on the family. I was seven months pregnant at one of them and had to work as a laborer in the new place to make ends meet. Due to the carrying, I had a miscarriage. The children get sick every time we move, and we borrow money to take care of them.”
The numbers of people who are currently moving or will move in the future due to environmental factors are only estimates. This is because other factors, such as conflict and political instability, often come into play, and there are no official figures on people moving internally, which is the most common phenomenon.
Climate factors pose a threat to people’s lives and often the only way to adapt to new conditions is to migrate. The majority of people forced to migrate live in vulnerable zones and are engaged in fishing and agriculture. “Everyone was climbing trees. Houses were being submerged by water. Suddenly, the branch where my husband and I had climbed broke, and they fell into the water with our 8-year-old son. I never saw them again…”, Marta, Mozambique.
People displaced by climate change are not considered refugees under international refugee law, in particular the Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which provides for the recognition of refugee status for anyone who is outside their country for fear of persecution. This means that there is no framework of protection for these people.
Maleka is 16 years old and has already been working for 4 years as a domestic worker in Dhaka. Her family home in rural Bangladesh has been destroyed by floods four times in eight years and she has had to migrate to the city to help with the costs: “I always dreamed of becoming a teacher. My dream no longer has any meaning”.
Dreams, lives and places that seem to be at the mercy of nature make it imperative to mobilize everyone directly against the climate crisis, which is ultimately a humanitarian crisis.
Photo credits: Guajardo-ActionAid
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