/ 1 October 2007

UN: Climate change driving forced migration

Climate change, environmental degradation and economic deprivation are among forces increasingly driving the dramatic growth in migration, the head of the United Nations refugee agency said on Monday, pointing to desertification, rising sea levels, water shortages and political conflicts.

Climate change, environmental degradation and economic deprivation are among forces increasingly driving the dramatic growth in migration, the head of the United Nations refugee agency said on Monday, pointing to desertification, rising sea levels, water shortages and political conflicts.

The UN High Commissioner (UNHCR) for Refugees Antonio Guterres said: ”The present century is a time of human displacement”, but some of the causes went beyond UNHCR’s mandate.

He told the opening session of UNHCR’s 72-nation ruling body in Geneva: ”Many people move simply to avoid dying of hunger. When leaving is not an option but a necessity, this is more than poverty.”

Nearly every model showing climate change pointed to increased desertification destroying livelihoods in many areas, said Guterres.

Attacks by Janjaweed on tribesmen in Darfur might be politically motivated, but the results were the same as water shortages in Southern Africa, which set herders against farmers. While governments could offer refugee status to asylum seekers fleeing persecution, the UNHCR faced a dilemma over environmental refugees.

”Can we simply send them back to such deprivation?” asked Guterres, adding: ”The answer to this complex dilemma clearly goes beyond [UNHCR’s] own mandate.”

New strategies were needed to deal with the effects of climate change, he said.

”For each centimetre the sea level rises, there will be one million more displaced. The international community seems no more adept at dealing with these new causes than it is at preventing conflict and persecution.”

Guterres also said more third country resettlement was needed to spread the burden of crises such as Iraq, where UNHCR was running its biggest operation. More than four million people uprooted inside and outside Iraq constituted the largest-ever population of ”urban refugees”.

By the end of 2006, UNHCR had helped 32.9-million people, including 10-million refugees who had left their countries, 13-million displaced within their own countries and 5,8-million stateless people. After several years of decline the numbers of people forced from their homes had begun to climb again at the end of 2006. — Sapa-dpa