People Around the World Facing Prospect of Large-Scale Forced Migrations – Especially Some of the World’s Poorest

With floods inundating towns and cities, longtime residents of Bangkok and nearby areas of central Thailand, including the ancient capital of Ayutthaya, may have to migrate.

Governments worldwide are generally ill-prepared and ill-equipped to cope with, much less manage, forced mass environmental migration on such a scale. Still, they would have to if global temperatures increase by just a few degrees by 2100, according to a recently concluded study by an international group of 12 scientists.

The research team, which included two researchers from the University of Florida (UF), came together last year at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center on the shores of Lake Como in northern Italy to review 50 years of research to do with population resettlement in the aftermath of natural disasters or as a result of large-scale infrastructure projects such as dams and pipelines, according to a report.

Communities in Ruin

They concluded that past resettlements “have left communities in ruin and that policymakers need to use lessons from the past to protect people who are forced to relocate because of climate change,” according to the report.

“The effects of climate change are likely to be experienced by as many people as disasters,” UF anthropologist Anthony Oliver-Smith was quoted as saying. “More people than ever may be moving in response to intense storms, increased flooding and drought that makes living untenable in their current location.”

“Sometimes the problem is simply a lack of regard for the people ostensibly in the way of progress, but resettlements frequently fail because the complexity of the task is underestimated,” said Oliver-Smith, a professor emeritus who has spent more than 30 years researching issues associated with forced migration. “Transplanting a population and its culture from one location to another is a complex process — as complicated as brain surgery,” he said.

Environmental Migration

A lot of research is being done on the issue of migration due to environmental changes due to climate change. How much action is being taken by governments, businesses, and international aid organizations is open for debate.

In 2008, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) published a short book by Oli Brown entitled “Migration and Climate Change.”

In it, Brown focuses on examining and analyzing possible future scenarios for forced migration due to climate change and attempts to estimate the developmental impact of forced migration and the resettlement of millions of people displaced by coastal flooding, extreme droughts, other extreme weather events, and large-scale agricultural disruption.

Released on Oct. 19, the UK government-sponsored “Migration and Global Environmental Change Foresight Report” warns of the potential for large-scale humanitarian disasters due to changing climate, including flooding, drought, and rising sea levels.

Looking out over a 50-year time horizon, the report is said to be the most detailed study carried out on this increasingly urgent issue, according to a BBC report.

The report’s authors conclude that governments and other stakeholders need to act now to prepare for such events and that the best way of doing so is to assist the world’s poorest to move away from areas likely to be affected.


Download the full 236-page report: Migration and Global Environmental Change: Future Challenges and Opportunities (pdf) 

Image credit:  Thai Travel News

Andrew Burger
Andrew Burger
A product of the New York City public school system, Andrew Burger went on to study geology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, work in the wholesale money and capital markets for a major Japanese bank and earn an MBA in finance.

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