When people of a place are forced to leave their homes and live elsewhere permanently or temporarily due to various natural disasters or adverse conditions caused by climate change, they are called climate refugees. People worldwide are now passing through a climate crisis for various reasons. Increasing numbers of people are becoming climate refugees. Although people in developing countries are mainly victims of it, it is also happening in developed countries.
Climate refugees are forced to leave their territory due to sudden or long-term changes in the local environment. Usually, climate changes disrupt people's livelihoods. Climate change is considered harmful due to its adverse effects. Changes in standard rainfall patterns, droughts, heavy rains, floods, cyclones, deforestation, fires, rising sea levels, submergence of coastal houses and lands, and reduced water flow in rivers and canals are the adverse effects of climate change.
The term 'climate refugee' was first coined to refer to large-scale cross-border migration and displacement due to climate-related disasters. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) report states that by the end of 2021, 59.1 million people were internally displaced worldwide.
The Conference of Parties (COP) is held yearly to save the world from the adverse effects of climate change. The 27th Climate Conference was held from November 6 to 18 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. The climate conference was held when energy and food crises, inflation, and economic recession created global unrest. Although the economic and geopolitical context is complex, climate finance was central to the 27th conference's discussions.
Due to the adverse effects of climate change, coastal Bangladesh is facing a daily agony of cyclones and salinity, drought in the north, landslides in the northeast and floods in the middle. The rural production and food system and multifaceted socio-cultural relationships are collapsing. The changing weather is creating a dire crisis in every occupation that depends on nature, including agriculture. People cannot live in villages and are forced to leave their birthplace.
The procession of climate refugees is getting longer every day in small and big cities. Men are becoming rickshaw pullers or day labourers and women are destined to be domestic or garment workers. And children are destined for hazardous jobs like battery breaking and waste picking.
Surprisingly none of the climate refugees used fossil fuels. They are not responsible for greenhouse gas and carbon emissions. But these emissions are causing global warming, distorting climate behaviour. People are fighting to survive, and many are also helpless.
Rising sea level is another threat. According to the United Nations, between 160 million and 260 million people worldwide are victims of this, 90 percent of whom are poor in developing countries. There, citing the example of Bangladesh, it has been said that if the current trend of climate change continues, 17 percent of the country's area will be submerged by 2050. And 20 million people living there will have to move. Regarding Bangladesh, IDMC said that natural disasters cause the displacement of around seven lakh people in Bangladesh every year. According to a 2018 report by the World Bank, 13.3 million people may migrate internally by the year 2050 due to the adverse effects of climate change.
In addition to sudden natural disasters, climate change has become a critical factor in the scarcity of clean drinking water and irrigation water. Also, people are deprived of natural resources.
River flooding is also a cause of displacement inland and, along with erosion, is likely to become more significant under climate change as rainfall increases and becomes more erratic. The melting Himalayan glaciers alter river flows.
As rainfall patterns change, the drier north-western regions of Bangladesh are at risk of drought, which drives people away through the destruction of crops and disruption of livelihoods. While not a significant factor in displacement, this risk is expected to rise as climate change progresses.
Landslides, also induced by increasingly erratic rainfall, affect Bangladesh's hilly north-eastern and south-eastern regions and can cause displacement by destroying homes and property and disrupting agriculture. As with drought, landslides are not currently a primary cause of displacement, but they are predicted to become more severe and frequent due to climate change.
People from the coastal areas are leaving their homes and settling in the slums of the cities, especially the slums in Dhaka. As a result, Dhaka is becoming more densely populated daily. Dhaka is believed to be the largest area of opportunity for economic activities. Because of that, displaced people from all over the country are rushing to Dhaka and taking shelter in slums.
But a large number of people in Dhaka are extremely poor. There is no end to problems: food and living problems, water problems, health problems, problems of getting work and many more! Despite this, four lakh low-income people leave their homes and come to Dhaka annually for various reasons. As a result, some environmentalists say Dhaka city has become a slum of climate refugees.
If these climate refugees cannot be stopped from heading towards Dhaka, it should not be difficult for anyone to guess where the situation in Dhaka will end up. Dhaka has already become the seventh-largest city in the world in terms of population. According to the Economic Intelligence Unit's Global Livability Ranking Report-2021, Bangladesh is among the worst-living countries, securing the 137th spot among 140 countries. It can be said for sure that the liveability index of Dhaka will go down further if the internal climate refugees moving towards Dhaka cannot be stopped.
The impact of climate change is affecting the marginalised populations of various countries the most. We have also observed the climate crisis's impact in the recent past. Where our coastal areas will become uninhabitable should be our concern so we can leave a liveable Bangladesh for our future children.
Climate change is a global problem, and international action is needed to solve this. Governments of various countries must ensure the ban on fossil fuels by providing legal protection. The human rights of climate refugees caused by climate change must be guaranteed through international law.
International obligations to provide legal recognition, protection and assistance to climate refugees should be negotiated. All countries should be forced to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement, and every government must implement its commitment to reduce global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Above all, the government of every country should be proactive in creating public awareness about climate refugees. The government, civil society, the community and the international community must work together to address Bangladesh's current and future climate refugee crisis.
The writer is a researcher
and development worker