From The Straits Times Archives: Climate refugees

 A traditional Myanmar lion statue sinks in floodwaters in Kyouk Ye village near Hinthada town in Myanmar's Irrawaddy region on Aug 6, 2015. Myanmar's president called for the evacuation of low-lying areas as the Irrawaddy river threatened to breach
A traditional Myanmar lion statue sinks in floodwaters in Kyouk Ye village near Hinthada town in Myanmar's Irrawaddy region on Aug 6, 2015. Myanmar's president called for the evacuation of low-lying areas as the Irrawaddy river threatened to breach embankments. Myanmar is one of the countries vulnerable to climate change.PHOTO: AFP

This article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2012.

BANGKOK: Ningxia Hui autonomous region is more than 1,000km from Beijing and China’s booming coastal cities. Near Inner Mongolia, it is one of China’s poorest regions, and in recent years has seen both less rain and shifting weather patterns. 

It is watered by the storied Yellow River, but that river has been shrinking. Locals in Ningxia Hui get by with just 14 per cent of the amount of water the average Chinese consumes every day. 

To adapt, the local government has moved tens of thousands of villagers from parched areas. 

Villages stricken by drought are abandoned to let the surrounding ecology regenerate. Those who leave move to subsidised housing close to water and roads, with biogas-based electricity, schools and greenhouses.

Relocated villagers also receive financial assistance and training. 

Some 180,000 people migrated from drought-hit villages in Ningxia Hui from 2006 to 2010. Over the next five years, 350,000 more will migrate.

Ningxia Hui is one example of the toll of climate change but it is not the worst. China is not even on the list of 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change.

Six of those on the list however are in the Asia-Pacific region – Bangladesh, India, Nepal, the Philippines, Afghanistan and Myanmar.

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  • Effects of extreme weather

    Extreme weather events displaced more than 42 million people across Asia and the Pacific in 2010 and 2011. 
    Between 2001 and 2010, natural disasters affected an average of more than 200 million people in the region each year, with more than 70,000 deaths. 
    An estimated 10.7 million people were displaced by extreme weather events related to climate change in Asia alone, in 2011. East, South-east, and South Asia accounted for almost all of the displaced.
    Environmental hazards from rising sea levels and associated storm surges are a great concern for low-lying regions in South-east Asia. About one-third of its population live in areas at risk of coastal flooding. 
    Areas identified as highly vulnerable include the Mekong, Red, and Irrawaddy river deltas. Major cities situated at or close to sea level in the region – including Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh, Jakarta and Manila – are likely to be affected.
    Increasingly severe storms, droughts and rising sea levels linked to climate change are likely to dent rice and wheat production. 

  • Source: Asian Development Bank

More than 42 million people in Asia and the Pacific were displaced by extreme weather events over the last two years, said the Asian Development Bank (ADB) yesterday. 

Many were those who lived in Asia’s low-lying zones close to the sea and major rivers. With the world’s temperature expected to rise by up to 2 deg C by 2050, and possibly by up to 4 deg C by 2100, the ADB warned that governments will need to factor in climate change in their development plans, including planning for mass migration.

In a new report – “Climate-Induced Migration” – released during a two-day conference here, the ADB said that increasing waves of migration are straining the ability of cities and governments to cope. 

The best example is Dhaka. The capital of Bangladesh is home to about 12 million people, of which close to four million live in slums. According to the International Organisation for Migration, over 60 per cent of slum dwellers in Dhaka have experienced environmental disasters. And the population is still growing; Dhaka is on course to become the fourth-largest megacity in the world by 2025.

The ADB urged more support for vulnerable populations so that they have a choice not to migrate – and better infrastructure and livelihood alternatives for those who were forced to do so.

Governments need to use new financial instruments including “catastrophe bonds” and special insurance schemes. The Asia-Pacific region, the bank said, needs to spend about US$40 billion (S$50 billion) a year up to the end of 2050 to “climate proof” itself.

“The solutions are there, they just cost money,” ADB vice-president Bindu Lohani told journalists. 
While people migrate for a variety of other reasons, “the environment is becoming a significant driver of migration in Asia and the Pacific as the population grows in vulnerable areas”, Mr Lohani said.

The existence of sound migration policies can determine whether people become migrants or refugees, said research fellow Francois Gemenne, from the France-based Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations. 

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