Environmental Refugees, and the International Community, Face Formidable Challenges

refugees- floodThanks to climate change, there is a new-ish group of refugees: those driven from their homes because of environmental changes. These “climate refugees,” or “environmental refugees” are, according to a BBC report, a growing source of concern for human rights groups as well as economic and political stability.

The BBC report chronicles the fleeing of one Bangladeshi family from its home in rural Bogra to the slums of Dhakata – just two examples of many communities worldwide affected by climate change. The family fled floods that, while normal in Bogra, have struck with increasing severity in recent years. Analysts believe global warming, which caused the floods to increase in the first place, will cause the problem to worsen as time goes on. An estimated 30 million Bangladeshis could, in turn, become climate refugees.

Climate change-related migration could, the BBC report highlights, cause a number of political, military, and economic problems for communities to which refugees flee, surrounding areas, and the international community. Countries from which refugees flee are, some believe, likely to demand compensation from wealthy countries they believe created the problem. Meanwhile, foreign aid to struggling countries could be negatively impacted by climate change. The UK, for example – Bangladesh’s biggest donor – will be unable to meet the growing challenge with its current annual aid package of £125m. Security, too, may become a greater challenge as refugees spill over countries’ borders in search of shelter.

Columbia University’s study “In Search of Shelter” further elucidates the influence of climate change on migration and displacement. According to the study, coastal communities worldwide (including the densely populated Ganges, Mekong, and Nile River deltas) will suffer as glacier melt causes sea levels to rise. The damages will include corrosion of farmland and beach communities, housing destruction, and other dangers. Populations with ecosystem-dependent livelihoods (i.e. agriculture-related occupations) will likely experience long-term migration in the next two or three decades. Natural disasters – already the cause of most environment-related migration – will worsen.

The BBC report details the debate over possible solutions: mitigating and/or adapting to the problem by increasing funding for aid and/or countering climate change.

Sarah Harper is a professional writer based in San Francisco, California. Her interests include sustainability, government policy, and international politics. In her free time, Sarah enjoys toying with the idea of holistic health, overanalysis, and plotting world exploration.

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