Bank Urges Asia-Pacific to Prepare for Climate Migrants

BANGKOK, Thailand, March 13, 2012 (ENS) – Climate change will cause an upward surge in migration this century, and governments in disaster-prone Asia-Pacific nations must promptly enact measures to stave off future humanitarian crises, warns a new Asian Development Bank report.

Released today at the Second Asia-Pacific Climate Change Adaptation Forum in Bangkok, the report represents what the bank calls “the first significant effort to identify policy and other responses to impacts of environment events on human mobility within the Asia and Pacific region.”

Dr. Bindu Lohani of Nepal (Photo courtesy ADB)

Nothing less than “transformational change” will be required to build societies in Asia and the Pacific that are resilient to climate change, Dr. Bindu Lohani, Asian Development Bank vice president for knowledge management and sustainable development, emphasized Monday in his keynote speech to the forum.

The two-day forum has attracted over 800 climate and development experts, policymakers, and members of nongovernmental organizations. Recent flooding in Bangkok has illustrated the impact of climate change on Asia and the Pacific and the need for urgent action.

Lohani pointed to a “pressing need” for countries in the region to accelerate efforts to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Resources currently available to “climate proof” roads, sewers, bridges and pipelines are grossly inadequate, he said, and even more work is needed to improve data collection, early warning systems, and other activities vital to build climate resilient societies.

“Public lenders and private investors cannot continue to channel billions of dollars to massive infrastructure projects without factoring in the realities of warmer temperatures, rising sea levels and more violent storms,” said Lohani.

The bank’s report reflects this view, stating, “Climate change is expected to increase both the number and intensity of natural disasters, especially floods, storms, and heat waves.”

As a result, the authors warn, climate change migration is “an emerging phenomenon requiring urgent attention by governments and the international community.”

Man displaced by floods in Bangkok, Thailand, October 2011 (Photo by Gabrielle Paluch courtesy VOA)

Climate adaptation costs for Asia-Pacific nations are estimated at $40 billion through 2050, and while there are environmental funds, none are currently dedicated to addressing climate-induced migration issues, the bank says in its report.

The report, “Addressing Climate Change and Migration in Asia and the Pacific,” finds that more than 42 million people in the region were displaced by environmental disasters over the past two years.

An undetermined number of those displaced people became migrants, unable to return home or choosing to relocate to safer ground.

“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 Dr. Lohani.

“Governments should not wait to act,” he urged. “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 gives many examples of the climate-induced disasters that have displaced people in the region over the past several years.

In Papua New Guinea, sea-level rise is putting the livelihoods of many island communities at risk, the report states. In 2007, the Government of Papua New Guinea, along with the autonomous government of Bougainville, decided to resettle inhabitants from the Carteret atoll and neighboring atolls to the island of Bougainville. This case of preventive resettlement is assisted by a nongovernment organization that has been specifically formed to coordinate with local people regarding their resettlement.

In 2011, torrential monsoon rains forced four million people from their homes in Pakistan’s Sindh province. (Photo by ShelterBox)

In July 2010, Pakistan was hit with heavy monsoon rains, which flooded much of the Indus River basin, displacing more than 10 million people, with about 20 percent of the country under water. About 2,000 people died in the disaster. According to the report, “The provision of international aid relief was widely considered as insufficient, and the floods took a very heavy toll on the country and its population, with millions of farmers housed in refugee camps, and crops and cattle destroyed.”

In December 2011, Typhoon Washi ravaged the Philippines island of Mindanao and displaced more than 300,000 people, mostly in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan. Public health issues emerged as a result of the lack of adequate relocation facilities, which were urgently needed.

The report is among the first to identify policy responses to the impacts of environmental events on migration in Asia and the Pacific. The authors identify existing international agreements, guidelines, principles, and dialogue forums that can improve migration management.

To accommodate the anticipated increase in migrant flows to the region’s megacities, the report recommends greater investments in urban infrastructure and basic services.

The need to protect migrant rights and to provide migrants with equitable access to education, health, water and sanitation is recognized in the report.

To minimize the risk of displacement, the report advises climate-threatened communities to strengthen their resilience by improving disaster risk management systems.

The International Organization for Migration distributes bed kits in an evacuation center in Cagayan de Oro City, southern Philippines, January 2012. (Photo by IOM)

The report recommends that governments work with the private sector to introduce sea level index-based insurance, catastrophe bonds and weather derivatives to draw investors into financing and managing the risks posed by climate change.

It suggests that climate-induced migration should be seen not only as a threat to human well being but also as a tool to promote human adaptation to climate change.

Lohani writes in the report, “The countries of Asia and the Pacific can choose to turn the threat of climate-induced migration into an opportunity to improve lives, advance the development process, and adapt to long-term environmental change by altering development patterns, strengthening disaster risk management, investing in social protection, and facilitating the movement of labor.”

The report finds that while most migration will continue to take place within countries, there will also be greater cross-border movement and governments will need to cooperate more closely on migration matters.

Lohani writes, “While some actions will require regional or global action, many steps can be taken within individual countries, since migration spurred by environmental events is – and is expected to remain – primarily a domestic phenomenon.”

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