Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Climate Migration: Testing point of Human Sensitivity

Guest blogger: Shweta Rathore, LLM student, University of San Francisco

In order to survive in this world as humans, it is always a bit more than hope and faith that we all need. The end goal of any actions, choices we make is “a happy life” which can be easy for few but can be a basic battle for a mere survival for others. The basic needs can be counted as health, food, sanitation, livelihood and in most traumatic phases just a question as to whether one shall survive the day and see the rising sun once again.

The life of migrants is one example of human society where the life struggles not only to meet up basic needs but to figure a way out of persistent miseries and lead one’s family in a livable atmosphere. In general, the society has become so hard to the empathetic traits of humanity that every action of the other is put under the lens of doubt even if that action is an attempt to make it to the next day of her life. Nations view such individuals who carry so much of emotional and mental burden along, as trespassers, law breakers, illegal humans, aliens and what not! But the question is how logical this race has become that acknowledging pain and suffering appears a risk? And if that is the case, how do we even challenge ourselves to be a developing race when the core values (which distinguish us in the natural strata of living beings from animals) has vanished?

Climate crisis has been constantly affecting the world in various ways and the impact of the same is heavily felt by the world at large. But if we look deeper, why is the world worried about climate crisis? Is it because we have become too caring for the environment out of the blue? Had that been the case, the very situation of climate crisis wouldn’t persist. It is the fear of survival! And when such fear is experienced by a set of individuals on a daily basis because no day is a day without crisis and one wonders with such climatic situation around them how and what is the way out to mere survival.

For no life is a matter of great joy to leave behind the life long memories one makes and walk ahead just to ensure survival of family and that of oneself. The situation of climate crisis has and continues to force hundreds and thousands of individuals to leave their lands, loved ones and roots just to ensure food, shelter and basic needs. And all of this because they have no choice! A small province called Alta Verapaz in rural Guatemala, has been experiencing hurricanes and natural disruptions leading to enormous damage to the crop of mostly maize which is the staple crop for families in the region. The families put together their hope and sweat with hope of obtaining a flourishing harvest but continuous rains and hurricanes have left them with nothing but devastated fields. With such repetitions of climatic scenarios, people from the region and other parts of Mexico who also face no better state look at the borders of United States with a hope for survival. Individuals and families not just from rural Guatemala but other agrarian areas of Salvador and Honduras are forced to leave their land and choose survival. When considering the bigger picture, it is not just the climate crisis alone that put these individuals in such scenario, but it is also the food insecurity. And when taken together it makes life vulnerable for such people. Finding life amidst such harsh conditions, Guatemalan migrants have been apprehended at the US-Mexico border more than 153,000 times this year in 2021. The situations are harsh to an extent that in Alta Verapaz and Huehuetenango, at least one member from a family migrated or attempts to migrate in the last five years according to the survey conducted by the International Organization for Migration, and the primary motive is found to be fleeing from Natural disasters and climate crisis. It is just not hurricanes that are a matter of concern in areas like Guatemala, but also natural calamities like drought, volcano eruption, floods and influential fluctuation in Coffee prices.

The impact of such crisis is job insecurity, unemployment, loss and large-scale damage to the infrastructure. And if this alone was not enough, the locals faced double defeat due to the pandemic kicking, which took the entire scope of survival into darker space.

In such affected regions like Guatemala, the lack of proper living conditions and shortage of food means that most of the children are chronically hungry, leading to many being short for their age, weakened bones and bloated bellies. The question in the minds of families is where their next meal for the day shall come from. The young folks are choosing to compromise the early years of adulthood and step out to seek security for their family and themselves. There are few who say we tried to move out and failed but will try again because there is no hope here and trying again and again to choose life over death is the only choice.

For most of the human past, humans have been inhabiting areas that supported their livelihood and the food production was supported by climatic conditions. However, with present climatic scenario and the planet warming up, the survival of entire race seems to be dreadful. And this is not all, in 2018 the World Bank estimated that there are three regions -- Latin America, Sub-Saharan-Africa and South East Asia -- that will generate 143 million more climate migrants by 2050.  In 2017, 68.5 million people were forcibly displaced, more than at any point in human history. And a rough estimate indicates that one third of these were displaced due to “sudden onset” climate conditions like floods, drought or fires in the forest. The impact of climate crisis might be different in different parts of the world but the responsibility of survival will have to be collectively borne by the world in totality.

And as the Biden administration expresses its sincerity in tackling the root causes of migration from areas like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, any work it does to navigate climate related problems in terms of migration, would show a path to other parts of the world too. But the ongoing reaction on part of the US government speaks in contrary terms; rhetoric such as “you will be turned back” offer no solution to these thousands of individuals approaching the US southern borders, and places major powers like the US in a position of shame. Using exclusionary strategies like Title 42, the US government only displays an insensitive side of its system. Using the pandemic as a pretext actually costs life and creates devastation.

How is UNHCR playing its part?

“Climate change is the defining crisis of our time and it particularly impacts the displaced” says the UNHCR’s Special Advisor on Climate Action, Andrew Harper. As an international agency responsible for refugee protection, the UNHCR expresses its concern for people who have been displaced by conflicts or prosecuted across international borders. But the organization sees climate change as a risk multiplier or an aggravated threat for other aspects of displacement.

Climate migration in itself might not be a area of conflict but it can certainly result in food insecurity and challenges to survival for people across the globe. It increases challenges to livelihood and puts pressure on education and health services. This is often coupled with pressures on governance and access to overall resources, because of challenges to socio-political and religious grievances, or community structures. The combination of factors could be the spark to set everything off.

And ultimately, all the related entities will have to take necessary measures to mitigate the arising vulnerabilities or else the chances of conflict will only escalate with time. And this is where UNHCR is trying to play a role. The organization is aiming to show a nexus between climate crisis, vulnerability, its challenges and those being displaced as a results.

Some UNHCR measures:

  • It has developed a Strategic Framework on Climate Action, which covers three pillars of response. The first pillar speaks to the legal and normative work regarding protection for people being forced to move due to climate change. The overall goal is to support access to protection for people displaced in the context of climate change and disasters through guiding the interpretation and application of relevant legal and policy frameworks, developing guidance and catalyzing international discussions.
  • The second pillar is to enhance the resilience of displaced population to the climate and other related vulnerabilities and provide a framework to strengthen preventive measures for disasters.
  • The third pillar is most relevant one in the view of this body -- trying to “green itself”’ such as reducing their green house gases emission and reducing its impact on the environment.

In totality, UNHCR is aiming to work with governments and other agencies to assist communities to better withstand climate related calamities when they arise.

But looking beyond, climate migration is not just an independent global concern but a root problem which shall deprive thousands of individuals from even a basic life span. Any solution will only be through a collective effort on part of the developed nations like the US to offer constructive help to displaced individuals rather than emphasizing protection of borders and getting away from its responsibility.

Finally, what first appears to many as a security issue is actually a climate displacement issue and needs to be acted upon for the sake of human survival.




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There may be given some data regarding climatic changes and migration.

Posted by: Very good open-minded analysis of the issue. | Oct 27, 2021 9:43:04 AM

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