Climate refugees – what does climate change have to do with flight?

There could be over 140 million climate refugees by 2050. The reason: the effects of climate change on people’s livelihoods are so severe that they no longer see any other perspective. The hardest hit, however, are those who lack the means to flee.

Extreme weather events caused by climate change, such as the prolonged drought in Somaliland in 2018, are forcing people to leave their homes. © Thomas Rommel/Welthungerhilfe

The consequences of climate change are central causes of hunger and poverty worldwide. But that’s not all: as climate change increasingly causes crops to fail and weather extremes to destroy habitats, more and more people find themselves forced to leave their homes. The following is a climate escape. The World Bank estimates that up to 143 million people could become climate refugees by 2050. The reason: the impact on their habitat and existence is so dramatic that they see no other way out.

Climate change as a cause of flight

The reasons for climate flight are manifold and vary from region to region. For example, rising sea levels in countries such as Bangladesh and Vietnam mean that coastal and delta regions are increasingly flooded and farmland destroyed by salty seawater. In many South Asian countries and Sub-Saharan African countries, droughts, storms and other extreme weather events are on the rise, often causing people to lose not only their homes but also their small farming livelihoods. There is nothing to keep people in their region – they become climate refugees.

How are climate and flight/migration connected? The graphic illustrates the variety of causes. © Welthungerhilfe

Especially countries in the Global South are increasingly affected by weather extremes. Poorer countries usually have poorer adaptation capacities and damage control mechanisms. A natural disaster therefore hits the population particularly hard. On average, 20 million people a year are displaced within their country due to climate-related disasters (Oxfam, 2019).

The demonstrable change in our climate system also ensures that entire ecosystems change as well. This has consequences for small-scale agriculture: where crops once flourished, the harvest is now small due to the changed conditions. Soils are increasingly eroding as dwindling biodiversity throws them out of balance. In the hope of a better life, many people flee to surrounding cities or neighboring countries. The link between climate change and migration clearly shows that there will be more climate refugees in the future.

Climate flight leads to violence and hunger

Overall, nine out of ten refugees seek protection in their own country or in another country of the Global South. Rapid population growth often poses social and economic challenges for host regions. Often, the food situation is already bad before the arrival of the climate refugees and is thus aggravated. Supply shortages and new conflicts may occur. Where conflicts already exist, they are exacerbated by the consequences of global warming and the climate refugees that accompany it.

Most refugees seek protection in their own countries, as here in a refugee camp in South Sudan. © Stefanie Glinski/Welthungerhilfe

With your donations, you can provide people in many countries with the support they need most urgently at the moment.

But not everyone can flee. Climate change hits the poorest of the poorest the hardest, because they lack the financial means to turn their backs on poor living conditions. Others stay because they are physically unable to flee, for example due to old age or illness. Their food situation is particularly endangered in this context.

What needs to be done to support climate refugees?

The two United Nations agreements from a development perspective.

Climate change is rightly considered a disaster, threatening the livelihoods of at least two billion people in the Global South. The countries of the Global North, as major contributors to climate change, must assume their responsibility to a greater extent. Because those hardest hit by the consequences are the population groups that are least responsible for them.

Around 79.5 million people are currently displaced worldwide (as of the end of 2019). Rising numbers of climate refugees could lead to new conflicts and exacerbate existing ones. As stated in the Global Compact on Refugees, the challenges this poses for host countries must be equitably shared internationally.

Approaches of Welthungerhilfe

Welthungerhilfe supports people who are particularly affected by climate change in adapting to the new conditions – so that climate refugees do not have to go on the run. Whether through agricultural development projects, disaster relief, or policy work, Welthungerhilfe staff are working every day in a variety of ways to keep the effects of climate change at bay. For example, affected people learn new farming methods in training courses, receive high-quality seeds, or build protective structures and early warning systems with support from Welthungerhilfe.

Selected climate change projects

The rural population Tajikistan’s Is partly dependent on wood as a raw material for heating and cooking. Especially in winter, many people have no access to electricity and must resort to inefficient and sometimes unhealthy stoves. Welthungerhilfe improves the energy supply of around 32.000 people by electricity from renewable sources; thus, about 1.800 tons of carbon dioxide saved per year. Learn more!

Haiti used to be covered by rainforest. However, due to massive logging, about 98 percent of the forest has disappeared today. A green oasis has become a brown wasteland – with far-reaching consequences for people and the environment: Soils have eroded and can no longer withstand the increasingly frequent weather extremes. Welthungerhilfe is fortifying fields with stone walls, setting up tree nurseries and training local people in various cultivation techniques. Learn more!

Small island countries like Haiti, Cuba and the Dominican Republic are particularly hard hit by the consequences of climate change. The project ClimateForest aims to mitigate the effects of climate change on ecosystems. Storms, floods and droughts destroy entire harvests of many small farming families. Soil conservation and adapted plant species can help preserve important livelihoods and mitigate the effects of climate change on the region. Learn more!

The Masai in Kenya have always been traditional pastoralists. They wander with their herds through the semi-desert, looking for grasslands. Until today, because climate change causes increased droughts – numerous animals perish. For the nomadic people this is a disastrous development, because without the animals they have neither a source of food, nor income. Supported by Welthungerhilfe, the Maasai have adapted their lifestyle to the new conditions. Learn more!

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