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Climate change greatly impacts the lives of migrants in different parts of the world. According to the United Nations, by 2050, up to 1 billion people could be driven away from their homes due to the worsening impacts of climate change. Both, sudden and slow onset weather events, affect the migrants.

Migrants face numerous challenges around their livelihood, safety, mobility and access to health/ and social services. Migrants are also impacted when climate changes affect their families back home, as they have to then provide increased financial support to their families to cope with the aftermath of such events.

However, these issues are not properly documented and migrants’ voices are often not much heard. A workshop on understanding climate change and its impacts on migrants and their families was organised by the International Migrants Alliance (IMA) during the recently concluded International Solidarity Conference on the Rights of Climate Migrants (Beyond Labels, Beyond Borders), held in Philippines by Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, IMA, Kalikasan and Asian People’s Movement on Debt and Development.

Here is a snapshot of some examples of the causes and consequences of climate induced migrations shared by the participants.

Rising sea levels

A returning migrant from Saudi Arabia, Anisur Rahman Khan from Bangladesh, shared that an estimated 15 million Bangladeshis will migrate internally and externally by 2050 due to climate change. One major cause for internal migration in Bangladesh is the rising sea level.

Statistics show that rising sea levels will wipe out more land in Bangladesh than anywhere else in the world. As a result, rice production is expected to drop by 10% and wheat production by 30% by 2050. Many coastal areas will be submerged, forcing more people to migrate from rural to urban areas, which are already bursting at the seams. Food, housing and drinking water insecurity are the major emerging problems that the government will have to deal with.

Environmental mismanagement

Reverend Emmanuel Chikoya from Council of Churches in Zambia shared that nature has blessed Zambia with huge deposits of minerals, which has attracted investors (or rather infesters as he prefers to call them) for extractive mining activities. This in turn has led to a massive reduction in forest cover due to felling of trees; contamination of underground water, making water unsafe for human consumption; and serious health hazards. Unplanned construction of dams is drying up the rivers. Even those who sacrificed their ancestral land for construction of electricity plants, are not the beneficiaries of the electricity generated. All this has resulted in large scale displacement of people to areas which do not have even the basic necessities. To top it all, local communities lack the knowledge and expertise to negotiate with the multinational corporations, and more often than not are taken for a ride.

Of late, Zambia has been receiving much less rain which has adversely impacted food grain production. Focus on production of crops like tobacco, instead of food crops like maize, has added to the problem. In an exclusive interview given to CNS (Citizen News Service), Reverend Emmanuel said that: “All religious bodies, including the Church, can play an important role in protecting the climate. In Zambia, the Council of Churches believes in helping people to live a dignified life on this earth, rather than preparing them for a life after death. It is the primary mandate of the Church that all human beings must be good stewards of the natural resources given to us by God and use them responsibly. Increase in agricultural production has to go hand in hand with soil and environmental protection. Religion must not only remove myths and wrong perceptions, but also use the principle of ‘love one another’ to promote good practices, clean energy and clean environment.”

Triple tragedy: Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown

Luisito Pongos from Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM) Japan who facilitated this workshop, reflected that one of the worst natural disasters that Japan experienced was an earthquake in 2011 that hit its north east region- which is called the rice bowl of Japan- followed by a devastating tsunami that also led to a nuclear accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. There were an estimated 22,000 deaths and more than 70,000 people, mostly migrants- 9000 of them being Filipinos- were affected. A large majority were marriage migrants- women of neighbouring countries legally married to Japanese men. Those who survived faced an acute shortage of food and shelter. Many migrants lost their documents, which resulted in losing their jobs and/or not being able to go back to their home country because they did not have their regular travel documents.

Even though the affected people were relocated to other safer areas, the disasters affected the livelihoods of many migrants settled in Japan, thereby also affecting their families in their home countries.

One silver lining has been the closure of several nuclear power plants in Japan. Currently only 9 out of the 54 nuclear power plants are in operation and the country is moving towards cleaner alternative energy sources, thanks to a strong people’s movement.

Human activities abet natural disasters

Eni Lestari and Iweng Karsiweng from Indonesia shared that Indonesia is a disaster prone country. In 2018 alone there were 5 big tsunamis and earthquakes. But no government support or compensation was given to the affected families to rebuild their lives. As many migrants working abroad came from 3 of the affected areas, it put them under an additional pressure to send more money back home to help their families.

Apart from adverse weather events, multinational corporations are adding to the problems. They have indulged in a lot of land grabbing in Indonesia. More than 300,000 hectares of forests have been burned down to make way for other lucrative businesses. This has led to high pollution levels resulting in severe respiratory health problems in the communities. The construction of numerous electric power plants is destroying the marine life of the oceans and forcing fisherfolk to migrate elsewhere. Also, large scale conversion of farmlands into palm oil plantations has depleted the water level and made surrounding areas dry, resulting in forced migration of people.

Typhoon ravages

In 2013, Philippines suffered one of its greatest natural disasters when Typhoon Haiyan hit Tacloban and many other neighbouring cities. More than 7,360 people were dead or missing and some 4.1 million were displaced. Some of the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan had families living in Cavite. After Haiyan, the survivors’ families in Cavite planned to go back to Tacloban and help their relatives with reconstruction and rehabilitation. However, fearing the loss of his workforce, the Mayor of Rosario, a municipality in Cavite, offered to relocate the Haiyan survivors to Cavite instead. Isla Paglaum, a beach resort, was converted into a relocation site for the survivors. As of 2018, there are some 150 families living in this area together with a few families coming from other parts of Cavite.

The way forward

A common consensus that emerged from the discussions was the urgent need to conduct and document evidence based studies that investigate the effects of climate change on internal and external migration, and to engage with governments at local and regional level to come up with sustainable solutions that address the causes and effects of climate migration.

And let us not forget that, more often than not, human activities like uncontrolled mining, faulty urban planning, depletion of forest cover, unplanned construction of dams, are all perfect precursors to worsening weather conditions like droughts, floods, landslides, water and air pollution… the list is endless!

Political decisions are overriding the interests and safety of the majority of the people for the benefit of a select few. We need to have well-informed and knowledgeable citizens who can unite and #RiseUp to change mindsets and hold governments to account.

Shobha Shukla – CNS (Citizen News Service)

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