Change 'Will Cause
By Michael McCarthy
21 October 2006
movements of people across the world are likely to be one of the most
dramatic effects of climate change in the coming century, a study suggests.
The report, from the aid
agency Tearfund, raises the spectre of hundreds of millions of environmental
refugees and says the main reason will be the effects of climate - from
droughts and water shortages, from flooding and storm surges and from
The study, "Feeling
the Heat", says there are already an estimated 25 million environmental
refugees, and this figure is likely to soar as rain patterns continue
to change, floods and storms become more frequent and rising tides start
to inundate low-lying countries such as Bangladesh or some of the Pacific
Tearfund says that without
urgent action, world governments will lose the fight to tackle the world
water crisis and the growing threat of climate-change refugees in catastrophic
The report calls for governments
at the UN Climate Change conference, beginning in Nairobi in a fortnight,
to move towards a global framework for cutting climate-changing greenhouse
gases such as carbon dioxide that goes beyond the existing climate treaty,
the Kyoto protocol, and to commit billions more to help poor countries
adapt to the coming changes.
"There will be millions
more thirsty, hungry and ill poor people living in high-risk areas of
the world by the end of the century," the report says. "It
makes sense politically, economically and morally, for governments to
act with urgency now."
Andy Atkins, advocacy director
of Tearfund, said one of the most devastating impacts of climate change
was on water supply. "In some parts of the world, floods, storms
and poor rainfall are beginning to have catastrophic effects, threatening
the lives and livelihoods of millions of people," he said.
This process will be steadily
exacerbated, the report says, by the differing yet equally serious changes
predicted to be part of a warming world. While some parts of the globe
may experience much less rainfall and thus drought, others regions will
have much more intense rain likely to bring about flooding. Sea-level
rise , which a recent report suggested could be up to 50cm by 2050,
would at that rate breach 100,000 kms (62,000 miles) of coastline around
The report says: "As
floods, drought and storms increase climate change will have a potentially
catastrophic impact on water supply, threatening the lives and livelihoods
of millions of people. Poor people - like the 80 per cent of Malawi's
population who farm small plots - are reliant on rain for their harvests,
and are least able to adapt to climate change. By exacerbating existing
water stresses, climate change impacts many other areas of human development
such as health and even industry."
It goes on: "Already,
there are an estimated 25 million environmental refugees - more than
half the number of political refugees. Experts such as the ecologist
Norman Myers suggest this figure could soar to 200 million in less than
50 years. Unseen and uncounted, millions are already on the move in
search of greater water security. In some countries, the exodus began
In the report's foreword,
Sir John Houghton, former chairman of the Scientific Assessment Working
Group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says politicians'
strong words on climate change must now be matched by sufficient investment
and strong action to cut global emissions, and help for the poorest
nations adapt to climate change on their doorstep. A key to this will
be helping poorer nations manage existing water supplies more efficiently.
"If your house is on
fire, do you urgently try to save it, or throw your hands up in despair
and walk away?" Sir John saysd. "Well, the house is on fire
and it requires much more determined efforts to bring it under control
and put it out. The UN climate change conference in Nairobi is an opportunity
for failings to be addressed. Time is running out on us and world governments
need to act much more responsibly, effectively and quickly."
The devastating impact
The report cites examples
of where water problems are already causing a mass exodus or movement
of people. They include:
* Poor crop yields are forcing
more and more Mexicans to risk death by illegally fleeing to the US.
* One in five Brazilians
born in the arid north-east of the country are moving to avoid drought.
* The spread of the Gobi
desert, at a rate of 4,000 square miles a year, is forcing the populations
of three provinces in China to abandon their homes.
* In Nigeria, 1,350 sq miles
of land is turning to desert each year. Farmers and herdsmen are being
forced to move to the cities.
* The population of Tuvalu,
a group of eight Pacific islands north-east of Australia, is already
being evacuated; nearly 3,000 Tuvalans have left so far.
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited
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