Millions displaced from their homes due to climate change, and Asia lacks preparedness

Amidst the rising number of climate-related disasters, a growing population faces displacement from their residences, notably in Asia.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reported an unprecedented count of 32.6 million internal displacements linked to disasters in 2022. This figure stands 41% higher than the annual average of the past decade and surpasses the 28.3 million individuals displaced due to conflict and violence in the same year.

Of the countries significantly impacted, four out of the top five nations experiencing new internal displacements due to disasters in 2022 were situated in Asia, as per the IDMC report. Pakistan recorded the highest count at 8.2 million, followed by the Philippines at 5.5 million and China at 3.6 million.

Forecasts suggest a grimmer future. A 2021 World Bank report predicts that by 2050, climate change could compel 216 million individuals across six regions to relocate within their respective countries. However, Vinod Thomas, a visiting senior fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, highlighted that such estimates might underestimate the severity of the situation, emphasizing a rapid and substantial increase in displacement.

Thomas stressed South Asia’s heightened vulnerability, especially for countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. He emphasized the region’s vulnerability due to population density and susceptibility to climate change effects.

The economic impact of climate-driven internal displacement is profound, with severe repercussions for host countries. The loss of economic production during Australia’s Black Summer bushfires was estimated at $510 per person missing a day of work. Additionally, covering housing needs for those unable to return home for a year could cost between $44 million and $52 million.

While internal displacement due to climate change prevails, there’s a growing concern about potential cross-border movements. Migration pathways might evolve gradually as climate change worsens, with some nations already making agreements to accommodate climate-affected individuals.

Pia Oberoi, a UNHCR senior advisor, highlighted the lack of clarity regarding reasons for migration, such as labor migration, among Bangladeshi migrant workers in Southeast Asia. This shift could be a result of climate change affecting agricultural production or forcing individuals to return to urban slums in their home countries.

Governments are urged to reconsider migration policies to safeguard human rights and assist climate-displaced populations. Suggestions include recognizing qualifications, aiding cultural integration, and facilitating financial remittances.

To address climate displacement effectively, countries need to focus on relief efforts, climate adaptation, and mitigation through decarbonization. However, Thomas noted the inadequacy of Asian countries in providing social and financial safety nets.

Sustained efforts are necessary to bolster adaptation measures like coastal defenses, which should be viewed as essential investments rather than optional expenditures.

To ameliorate the situation, industrialized nations need to step up efforts by offering migration opportunities, funding for adaptation, and honoring financial commitments made to support climate-vulnerable nations.

However, while the $100 billion commitment by developed countries to aid poorer nations affected by climate change may have been reached, it remains insufficient. Thomas emphasized the need for trillions, not billions, to effectively address climate-related challenges.

Ultimately, the plight of climate migrants demands immediate attention, emphasizing the urgent need for action amid ongoing discussions and debates on climate change.

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