Thursday, July 02, 2009

"environmentally induced migration"

Apologies for the lay off from blogging - academia can be a tough taskmaster.

I have no doubt that climate change induced migration is on the rise and will cause significant tensions across the globe. The Economist provide a nice introduction. Academics will follow.

I predict a value closer to the top end of estimates - 700m by 2050.

This article is "classic" journalism. Keep it personal about a small tribe in a small region and they go global with the dull science stuff.

Lovelock stars yet again - now we are talking:

James Lovelock, an environmental guru, posits a collapse in human population, in part related to migration, with a few “lifeboat” regions surviving.

Here is the article in full.

A new (under) class of travellers [Economist]

THE airstrip at Lokichoggio, in the scorched wastes of north Kenya, was once ground zero for food aid. During Sudan’s civil war, flights from here kept millions of people alive. The warehouses are quieter now, but NGOs keep a toehold, in case war restarts—and to deal with what pundits call the “permanent emergency” of “environmentally induced” migration.

Take the local Turkana people. Their numbers have surged in recent decades, and will double again before 2040. But as the area gets hotter and drier, it has less water, grazing and firewood. The drought cycle in northern Kenya has gone from once every eight years to every three years and may contract further. That means no recovery time for the Turkana and their livestock; the result is an increasingly frantic drift from one dry place to another.

A local crisis with local causes? Only partly. Scientists think it is part of a global phenomenon: people across the world on the move as a result of environmental degradation. Just how many are moving, or about to move, is maddeningly unclear.

The International Organisation for Migration thinks there will be 200m climate-change migrants by 2050, when the world’s population is set to peak at 9 billion. Others put the total at 700m.

These startling numbers may conjure up a picture of huge, desperate masses, trekking long distances and if necessary overrunning border defences because their homelands have dried up or been submerged. But at least initially, the situation in Kenya and other parts of east Africa is likely to be more typical: an already poor population whose perpetual search for adequate pasture and shelter grows harder and harder. In such conditions, local disputes—even relatively petty ones between clans and extended families—can easily worsen, and become embroiled in broader religious or political fights. And that in turn makes it harder for everybody in the area to survive, and more desperate to find new places to live, even if they are not far away.

A new report—“In Search of Shelter”—by the United Nations University, the charity CARE and Columbia University in New York lists the eco-migration “hot spots”: dry bits of Africa; river systems in Asia; the interior and coast of Mexico and the Caribbean; and low islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

A one-metre rise in sea levels could displace 24m people along the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Irrawaddy, Salween, Mekong, Yangtze and Yellow rivers—which together support a quarter of humanity. A two-metre rise could uproot 14m people on the Mekong alone and swamp much of its farmland. Meanwhile, the melting of the Himalayan glacier will cause floods and erosion upstream, boosting the price of rice and other staples. And many regional conflicts could be exacerbated.

The scale of the likely population shift raises big questions. Will climate-change migrants be recognised? The classic definition of refugees—tossed between states by war or tyranny—is outdated. Eco-migrants will be paperless paupers, whose multiple woes are hard to disentangle.

Poverty campaigners want a revised legal regime to protect the new migrants. However, this looks tricky. America resists calling them “environmental refugees”: the word “refugee” implies guarantees that cannot realistically be given to the coming torrent of migrants. As American diplomats quietly admit, their rich country is still reeling from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which killed 1,800 people and displaced hundreds of thousands.

Can the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expand to cope with eco-migrants? It has already struggled to widen its remit to include the internally displaced (26m at the end of 2008) as well as strictly-defined refugees (10m, excluding the Palestinians who come under another agency). A tenfold surge in the numbers within its orbit would push the agency out of control, says James Milner, a professor at Ottawa’s Carleton University. Meanwhile some aid workers see signs of a competition between institutions to take ownership of the eco-migration issue, perhaps by oversimplifying it.

Charles Ehrhart of CARE thinks UNHCR will remain central, but wonders how it or anybody can now distinguish between “forced” and “voluntary” migration. He says climate change may cut agricultural output by half in lowland Africa by 2020. “In such a context, does migration constitute a choice or a necessity?”

Migrants’ rights may be easy to assert for islanders whose homes are drowned—but hard in the case of big, messy movements across Africa and Asia. Most of the displaced will drift to the next-most-liveable place, as the poor do anyway.

“Many states are already overwhelmed by internally displaced populations,” says Mr Ehrhart. “Will they be able to support even more people on the move? If not, whose duty is it to make up the difference?”. At the least, the gap between carbon usage and climate change’s effects portends angry North-South rows.

Meles Zenawi, who as Ethiopia’s prime minister will speak for Africa at several global gatherings this year, predicts that some parts of the continent will become uninhabitable and “those who did the damage will have to pay.” At the December summit on climate change in Copenhagen, he hopes that Africa will “aggressively” demand compensation for environmental damage as well as help with migrants and the mitigation of climate change: in his view a demand of $40 billion would be reasonable.

Many agree that more research is needed to pinpoint the reasons why migrants pick up sticks. People concur that climate change fuels conflict in Darfur, but nobody knows how big a factor it is. Drought helped jihadist fighters seize bits of south Somalia, but was it the main reason?

Gloom abounds. James Lovelock, an environmental guru, posits a collapse in human population, in part related to migration, with a few “lifeboat” regions surviving. Then there is the pace of social change. The number of “megacities”—with populations in the tens of millions—may grow to several hundred by the middle of the 21st century. Most are poorly planned.

Would a migrant from a collapsed city receive aid? “We’ve not experienced anything of this kind, where whole regions, whole countries, may well become unviable,” says Jeffrey Sachs, head of Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

No wonder strategists see vast new security risks, and a big expansion in the world’s “ungoverned spaces”. But much can be done before the exodus turns biblical. In West Africa subsistence farming is badly irrigated. Improve that, throw in some seeds and fertiliser, scrap tariffs, build warehouses and roads, and the region may beat the worst of climate change.

Geographers at UN Habitat, a city-planning agency, say conurbations must adapt to the needs of climate-change migrants. “You can’t just stockpile people,” says Alex de Sherbinin of Columbia University. The pressure is tangible in Addis Ababa, which already has teeming slums. The price of teff, a staple, has surged after a famine that is still pushing people to the city. Mr Meles is not alone in his wrath.


No comments: