Damaged planet sees growing tide of refugees

Posted: 20 June 2008

With climate change predicted to take the number of refugees worldwide to one billion by 2050, a new report says that more people are already displaced by environmental disasters than by war. The effects are falling disproportionately on developing countries in south Asia, the Middle East, central Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The report by the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) says that a whole range of environmetal factors is responsible for this tide of migration.

Anong them are desertification, water shortages, prolonged droughts, coastal erosion, declining arable land, diminishing food stocks and floods. All are causing an increase in migration and territorial conflicts that threaten the stability of regions. These vulnerable populations are also exposed to an increase in infectious diseases.

Already over 2.6 billion people lack adequate sanitation and one-sixth of the world's population get their water from contaminated sources. This situation is worsened during times of conflict or natural disasters, when large numbers of refugees need access to basic life-support facilities such as safe drinking water.

CIWEM says the most vulnerable populations are those who live in countries where the health sector already struggles to prevent and treat disease. Climate change is making the situation worse for countries already struggling to meet basic sanitation needs by exacerbating these weaknesses and bringing new pressures on public health.

On this World Refugee Day (June 20), CIWEM calls for an international agreement on the management of environmental refugees which defines this new type of refugee within international frameworks. This includes those forced from their homes to make room for development projects such as dams and roads.

The Institute's Director of International Development, Paul Horton, said: "We need to put health at the heart of this matter, with the wellbeing of populations becoming the defining measure of the impact of climate change and our efforts to address it effectively.

"Movement on this scale has the potential to destabilise whole regions where increasingly desperate populations compete for dwindling food and water. It is our common responsibility to act now to address these issues. Environmental refugees already exist and we cannot wait until the day that the current trickle becomes a flood."

CIWEM, is an independent professional body and a registered charity, advancing the science and practice of water and environmental management for a clean, green and sustainable world. See: www.ciwem.org