Climate change and mass migration are intertwined issues. A planet bombarded with environmental and social problems leads to an unstable society, violence, and insecurity. Severe consequences of climate change and conflicts not only take millions of lives and livelihoods but also their homes, forcing them to find a place where they can begin again. The impact of extreme weather and wars have displaced more and more people across the world.
Environmental and Conflict Migrants
Understanding climate change-migration nexus is important in addressing our current climate change. The 2020 World Migration Report revealed that at the end of 2018, there were a total of 28 million new internal displacements across 148 countries and territories. About 61% of these new displacements were triggered by disasters, while 39% were caused by conflict and violence. While these figures are indeed alarming, experts aren’t surprised.
Previous studies have already warned that the worst impact of climate change will be seen on human migration while the number and intensity of disasters increase. A 2018 report from the World Bank, for instance, projected that there will be more than 143 million internal climate migrants by 2050, which will be coming from only three regions in the world: Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America.
Researchers find it difficult to estimate the number of environmental migrants across the world because diverse factors such as population growth, poverty, governance, human security, and conflict often interact with the climate change aspect. However, forecasts by the UN International for Migration revealed that there could be between 25 million to 1 billion environmental migrants by 2050. These migrants would be moving either within their countries or across borders, on a permanent or temporary basis.
South Asian populations are particularly vulnerable to slow-onset and rapid-onset disasters related to natural hazards and climate change, the report said. Slow-onset disasters include climate phenomena such as desertification, reduction of soil fertility, coastal erosion, and sea-level rise, which may induce long term migrations. On the other hand, sudden-onset natural disasters are more likely to result in mass displacement, with those affected often able to return to their homes.
According to Quartz, a business-focused English-language international news organization, the report revealed that sudden onset hazards in 2018 resulted in a total of 3.3 million new displacements in South Asia. One of the most heavily affected was India which suffered the maximum brunt of rapid-onset disasters. Reports showed that more than 2.7 million people in the country were displaced due to tropical storms and floods. Binod Khadria, co-editor of the World Migration Report, said that these kinds of disasters call for a “different and special” strategy because they suddenly displace people.
“You talk about internally displaced people but there are people who are displaced across the borders. They have to suddenly leave their habitation and find refuge in other countries. So, they become climate refugees. It is important and I think this can be equated to human trafficking or strife situation that drives people out because of conflict and violence,” Khadria said.
Both Extreme Weather and Conflict Displace Millions
For the past few years, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of weather-related climate disasters that have forced people from their homes. Previous reports revealed a total increase from just over 200 to more than 1,500 within a decade. This has made climate disaster the world’s leading cause of internal displacement. The recent Oxfam’s Forced from Home report reveals that extreme weather has displaced 20 million people year over year.
According to the World Economic Forum, an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas, researchers reported that people are now seven times more likely to be internally displaced by climate-fueled disasters than natural disasters, such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. These have fueled existing conflicts in many countries, forcing militants to lay siege to villages, burn homes and commit widespread human rights violations.
The 2019 Global Report on Internal Displacement released by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) revealed that 45.7 million people are living as migrants in their own countries due to conflict and violence. This is higher than the 28 million people displaced due to war and disaster. Conflict displaced roughly 10.8 million people, but 16.1 million people were displaced as a result of weather-related events. According to EuroNews, a daily dose of international news curated and explained, since 2009, more people have lost their homes due to a storm than a war on a global level.
While Europe accounts for less than 1% of the total weather displacements around the world, millions of people in some nations such as Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus, Georgia, Kosovo, Russia, and Turkey live in distress. For as long as 20 years, more than 2.8 million people have not been able to return home due to the war in Ukraine or previous conflicts. Meanwhile, displacement associated with disasters mainly affected East Asia and the Pacific and South Asia regions.
In 2018, about 9.3 million displacements in East Asia and the Pacific were triggered by disasters, accounting for more than half of all new weather disaster displacements. In the Philippines, 3.8 million people were displaced; 1.6 million people displaced as a result of Typhoon Mangkhut alone. Additionally, nearly 3.8 million people were displaced in China because of typhoons. According to DW.com, a German public international broadcaster, the displaced people were forced to live in informal settlements and cramped living quarters.
"Those people who remain displaced over a long period of time tend to be those who were already vulnerable before the disaster struck," said IDMC director Alexandra Bilak.
IDMC urged both individual countries and the international community to learn from the growing number of weather- and conflict-related displacements. “With the impact of climate change, in the future, these types of hazards are expected to become more intense. Countries that are affected repeatedly like the Bahamas need to prepare for similar, if not worsening, trends,” Bilak said.
Bilak added that the international community shouldn’t continue to ignore internally displaced people. “We must support national governments in their efforts to protect and assist IDPs, build peace, and invest in sustainable development and climate change adaptation. Only then will we be able to reduce the upheaval, trauma, and impoverishment that many millions of people suffer each year, and reverse the trends laid out in this report,” she said.