Over 42 million people in the Asia-Pacific region were displaced by environmental disasters in just the past two years, and a report issued today gives a stark warning that these nations are set to be hit with a surge of climate change-caused mass migrations and must act quickly to avoid future humanitarian crises.
The report, Addressing Climate Change and Migration in Asia and the Pacific (pdf) from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), highlights “environmental hot spots” in the region at particular risk of disasters such as flooding and typhoons. While some migrations will occur within countries, the report expects many migrations to cross nation lines and therefore recommends greater international cooperation for dealing with the crises.
“The environment is becoming a significant driver of migration in Asia and the Pacific as the population grows in vulnerable areas, such as low-lying coastal zones and eroding river banks,” said Bindu Lohani, ADB’s Vice President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development. “Governments should not wait to act. By taking steps now, they can reduce vulnerability, strengthen resiliency, and use migration as an adaptation tool rather than let it become an act of desperation.”
The report also looks at the disproportionate impact climate change has on women, stating that it is "far from gender neutral:"
Climate change impacts and the use of migration as a coping strategy are far from being gender neutral. The stronger relationship between women and poverty and between women and vulnerability to environmental impacts, and the fact that women in many countries of Asia and the Pacific (particularly in the developing countries) are less powerful than men, means that environmental impacts are strongly gender specific. There is a disproportionate risk to women from natural disasters. More women than men die in severe storms in flooding because of a lack of mobility due to gender barriers, the fact that women are less likely to know how to swim than men, and other factors (Oxfam 2005).
It should be noted that environmental disasters can increase women’s exposure to the risk of human trafficking. The vulnerability of women and girls to exploitation, illegal trafficking, and other forms of gender-based violence is often greater in the aftermath of such disasters, as their families and livelihoods are lost or disrupted. A recent United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report draws a link between environmental disasters and human trafficking, with a notable increase in trafficking after such events (UNEP 2011).
The report concludes:
Uncertainties—especially uncertainties regarding the number of potential migrants—should not be an excuse for inaction. Extreme environmental events already displace millions of people each year in Asia and the Pacific. Many of these become migrants. Their numbers will grow, and the patterns of their migration will evolve over time, particularly as slow-onset environmental change, such as drought and sea-level rise, registers its impact on human settlements. Unfortunately, international cooperation to address the cross-border aspects of such migration remain inadequate to the task at hand and the challenges yet to emerge. Thus, it is urgent to address this issue proactively through policy, projects and financing at all levels of government. Failure to give serious, timely attention to the issues involved will result in otherwise avoidable humanitarian crises.