Palaces For The People
Thursday, October 16, 2003
Nobody Thinks About Environmental Refugees Andrew Simms, The Guardian: "Nobody Thinks About Environmental Refugees
Andrew Simms, The Guardian
Andrew Simms is policy director at the New Economics Foundation.
LONDON, 16 October 2003 � The number of people seeking refuge as a result of environmental disaster is set to increase dramatically over the coming years. Ironically, given current attitudes, we in Britain will resist accommodating them, and yet they will have become refugees as a direct result of the way we in the West live. Global warming -- more than war or political upheaval -- stands to displace millions. And climate change is being driven by our fossil fuel-intensive lifestyles.
Though they have no official status, environmental refugees are already with us. They are people who have been forced to flee their homes because of factors such as extreme weather, drought and desertification. There are already more of them than their "political" counterparts -- 25 million, according to the last estimate, compared to around 22 million conventional refugees at their highest point in the late 1990s. By 2050, mostly due to the likely effects of global warming, there could be more than 150 million.
In 2001, 170 million people were affected by disasters, 97 percent of which were climate-related, such as floods, droughts and storms. In the previous decade more than 100 million suffered drought and famine in Africa, a figure likely to increase with global warming. Many times more were affected by floods in Asia.
According to one study, at least five small island states are at risk of ceasing to exist. There are several serious unanswered questions. What will happen to the exclusive economic zones of such countries, and what status will their populations have? Where whole nations become uninhabitable, should they have new lands carved out for them? Or should they become the first true world citizens? If there is no state left, how can the state protect its citizens?
Sea level rise in the range expected by the intergovernmental panel on climate change would devastate the Maldives. Without real international legal protection, their people could become resented minorities in Sri Lanka, itself threatened, or India, with its own problems. On the small South Pacific island of Tuvalu, people already have an ad hoc agreement with New Zealand to allow phased relocation. Up to 10 million could be displaced in the Philippines, millions more in Cambodia, Thailand, Egypt, China, across Latin America — the list goes on.
The effects of these population movements are likely to be highly destabilizing globally unless they are carefully managed. But, in spite of the scale of the problem, no one in the international community, including the UN high commission for refugees (UNHCR), has taken control of the problem. UNHCR says that, institutionally, they are too poor and that environmental refugees should be dealt with at the national level. It’s true that most parts of the UN system are underfunded. Ironically this, like global warming, is mostly the fault of wealthy industrialized countries for either not raising or meeting their contributions.
But without action, the countries least responsible for creating the problem stand to carry the largest share of costs associated with environmental refugees. Bangladesh, one of the world’s poorest countries, expects to have around 20 million people displaced. Creating new legal obligations to accept environmental refugees would help ensure that industrialized countries accept the consequences of their choices. In certain circumstances, the suggestion that the solution must lie at the national level could be absurd — the national level may be under water.
In the academic community, there has been much quibbling over definitions. Some would exclude environmental refugees from the protection the Geneva Convention affords because, they say, recognition would be “unhelpful”, overloading the existing refugee apparatus. The alternative, though, is to rely on current humanitarian relief operations that are widely considered inadequate. The convention could, however, already be used in its current form. Refugees are defined as people forced to flee across an international border because of a well-founded fear of persecution, or fear for their lives and freedom due to, among other things, membership of a particular group.
In terms of well-founded fears, drowning, homelessness or starvation would seem to fit the bill. In terms of membership of a particular group, any community or indigenous group similarly prone would also fit. Numerous countries already cannot afford to meet the basic needs of their people. Without proper environmental refugee status, the displaced could be condemned to a national economic and geographical lottery, and to the patchwork availability of resources and application of immigration policies.
There is a wide acceptance that current national policies would not be remotely capable of handling the scale of the problem. The environment can clearly be “a tool to harm”. But to fit the argument for refugee status, can the harm be called intentional? Yes, if a set of policies is pursued in full knowledge of their damaging consequences, such as flooding a valley where an ethnic minority might live in a dam-building project.
The causes and consequences of climate change — who is responsible and who gets hurt — are now well understood. Actively disregarding that knowledge would be intentional behavior. Current US energy plans, for example, will increase greenhouse emissions 25 percent by 2010. This is a question of justice in adaptation to climate change. Environmental refugees need to be recognized, and the problem managed before it manages us."
Floods disrupt lives of 350,000 people
Floods disrupt lives of 350,000 people
( 2003-10-15 08:16) (China Daily)
About 350,000 people are being affected by sudden and heavy rainfall and floods in the Yellow and Huaihe river valleys.
Local authorities reported that the sudden rain over the weekend has affected about 260,000 people in Zibo of Shandong Province. Some people's houses have collapsed and there has been widespread crop damage.
Experts said the flood situation along the lower reaches of the Yellow River will not ease for another month.
The continuous rainfall along the Yellow River has caused dykes to collapse in the Lankao section of the river in Central China's Henan Province. About 247 square kilometres of land in neighbouring Shandong Province have been flooded because of breaks in the dyke system. The flood has left about 96,800 people stranded but no deaths have been reported so far.
Apart from Shandong and Henan, people in Shaanxi Province through which the middle reaches of the Yellow River flow, have been fighting floods since August.At least 23 people died when their houses collapsed during five days of torrential rain in the province last week.
Last month, the worst rains in 40 years in the normally dry province killed dozens of people and forced half a million others to flee their homes.
County officials have asked residents to leave their houses if they are in danger of collapsing.
The flood-prone Huaihe River saw its fifth crest this year as heavy rains continued along its upper reaches.
The water level between Wangjiaba and Runheji in Anhui was expected to reach 27.6 metres by 2 pm yesterday, 1.1 metres higher than the warning level, said Anhui provincial flood control headquarters.
A headquarters' spokesman there said the high water level threatened most of the dykes in the diversion areas.
He said the headquarters had already sent three special teams of flood control experts to key areas to direct flood control work.
All flood control offices at city and county levels have been ordered to closely monitor water levels, and a 24-hour-a-day report mechanism has been established, he said.
Official figures show the heavy floods along the Huaihe River this summer claimed at least 16 lives and caused 18.17 billion yuan (US$ 2.2 billion) in direct economic losses in Anhui, Jiangsu and Henan provinces.
Earlier this month, the Chinese Government announced a planned investment of 38 billion yuan (US$4.6 billion) in flood control projects along the Huaihe River in the next five years to better contain the flood-prone river.
Half of the investment will be spent in Anhui Province alone, through which most of the river runs.
The reconstruction of dozens of water control projects, which were allowed to fall into disrepair in the 1950s because of lack of funds, will also be undertaken in provinces along the river.