Climate change compounds migration crisis

Posted: 14 May 2007

At least 1 billion people will be forced from their homes between now and 2050 as the effects of climate change deepen an already burgeoning global migration crisis, predicts a new report by Christian Aid.

These future migrants will swell the ranks of the 155 million people already displaced by conflict, disaster and large-scale development projects. The vast majority will be from the world's poorest countries. Urgent action by the world community is needed if the worst effects of this crisis are to be averted, says Human tide: the real migration crisis. "We believe that forced migration is now the most urgent threat facing poor people in the developing world," says John Davison, the report's lead author. Published to mark Christian Aid Week 2007, the report warns that the world is now facing its largest ever movement of people forced from their homes. The predicted numbers of displaced people could dwarf even those left as refugees following the Second World War. The impact of climate change is the great, frightening unknown in this equation. Only now is serious academic attention being devoted to calculating the scale of this new human tide. Even existing estimates, more than a decade old, predict that hundreds of millions of people will be forced from their homes by floods, drought and famine sparked by climate change.

weakened animals
weakened animals
People bringing their weakened animals to an Oxfam destocking programme. Photo: Jane Beesley, Oxfam.
Security experts fear that this new migration will fuel existing conflicts and generate new ones in the areas of the world - the poorest - where resources are most scarce. A world of many more Darfurs is the increasingly likely nightmare scenario. Most of those on the move will have to remain in their own countries - often at the mercy of the very governments which caused them to flee in the first place. These "internally displaced persons", or IDPs, have no rights under international law and no official voice. Their living conditions are likely to be desperate and in many cases their lives will be in danger. While the situation in Darfur has received a lot of media attention, most other recent coverage has focused on economic migrants and asylum seekers, says the report. "We hear a lot about people trying to come to Europe and other rich countries. But the real crisis is developing a long way away and remains largely unreported," adds Davison. Case studies in the report spell out in human detail how major internal migration crises have already developed in Sudan, in Uganda and in Sri Lanka. The main studies seek to highlight equally devastating situations that are still developing with far less attention from the wider international community.
  • Colombia is second only to Sudan for numbers of IDPs, with many living in crowded slums on the fringes of the capital, Bogotá. Originally forced to move by a decades-long civil war, this largely rural population is now seeing its land grabbed to make way for lucrative plantations. Increasingly, this is to produce palm oil - a substance in high demand and found in many products in the rich world's shopping baskets.

  • Mali lies in the Sahel belt of semi-arid land that straddles sub-Saharan Africa and is one of the areas vulnerable to global warming. Already farmers here are finding it impossible to live off the land in the way they have done for centuries. Erratic and declining levels of rainfall mean dramatically reduced crop yields - and people have to move in order to earn the money to feed their families.