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#Explained: Who are Climate Refugees?

countries with most number of climate refugees

The phrase “climate refugees” was initially used to refer to the growing large-scale migration of people that was partially prompted by such weather-related tragedies. Data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) showed that since 2010, there have been 21.5 million more people forced to flee their homes as a result of climate change-related disasters.

The UNHCR noted that

“in addition to sudden disasters, climate change is a complex cause of food and water shortages, as well as difficulties in accessing natural resources.”

Numerous effects of climate change have the potential to lead to displacement, exacerbate living conditions, or prevent those who have already been displaced from returning. Water is one of the few natural resources that is getting progressively harder to find in many refugee-hosting regions of the world. Where temperatures are too hot and dry or too cold and wet, crops and cattle struggle to survive, which endangers livelihoods. Climate change can make things worse, escalating already-present tensions and increasing the likelihood of human rights violations.

Only a few instances of migration being caused solely by climate change have been documented.

Case of Pacific Islands

The Pacific Islands provide the most obvious examples. In the western Pacific, the sea level is rising at a rate of 12 millimeters per year and has already engulfed eight islands. Two more are about to vanish, causing a surge of migration to more developed nations. In total, 48 islands are predicted to be lost to the rising ocean by the year 2100.

five countries with most displacements by disasters in the year 2019, Climate refugees data
Data Source: Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre

More than 20 million people are already affected on a yearly average by hazards brought on by the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, such as unusually heavy rainfall, extended droughts, desertification, environmental degradation, sea level rise, and cyclones.

Increasing sea levels is another danger. From 160 million to 260 million people, 90% of whom are from underdeveloped, poor countries, now reside in coastal areas at high danger of sea level rise over the past 30 years.

Case of Pakistan

In fact in neighbouring Pakistan, according to the most recent estimates, the floods have forced 7.6 million people from their homes. Currently, about 600,000 of them residing in relief facilities. Many areas of the nation remain underwater, particularly in the southern Sindh province. The threat of waterborne infections and the safety of millions of people, particularly women and children is growing. The officials in the country have issued a warning stating that may take up to six months for flood waters to recede in the areas that have been most severely affected.

33 million people have been impacted by the flooding overall. This could potentially lead to large-scale displacement of people, within the country itself. 

While we have begun to face the challenges posed by climate change, the future appears grim. If things continue this way, there is going to be an exponential increase in the number of climate refugees. Believe it or not, the future is now.

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