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Research Reveals Climate Change’s Role in Migrations, Refugee Crises

India flooding leads to mass migration

Climate change is contributing to forced mass migrations and refugee crises around the world, raising the potential for all sorts of conflict – social, political and military. Fleeing armed conflict is clearly the reason in some parts of the world, the flood of migrants flooding into Western Europe from Syria and Libya, for example. It’s clear that the effects of climate warming are the principal factor in others, however.

Forced to flee their homes due to the rising incidence and severity of floods, mudslides, monsoons and tropical storms, Indians in various rural states are moving en masse to India’s already strained, overcrowded cities. The problem has become acute, Harish Rawat, chief minister of Uttaranchal in northeastern India explained recently: “Instances of landslips caused by heavy rains are increasing day by day. It is an issue that is of great concern.”

The effects of climate change have led millions of Indians to leave rural homes and communities. Flooding in the states of Jammu and Kashmir in northwestern India last year and similar events in Uttarakhand in 2013 and Assam in 2012 displaced some 1.5 million people, according to IPS’ news report.

Climate change refugees

Climate migrants forced to flee their homes - PressTV

Climate change will continue to take a heavy toll across South Asia and lead to mass migration from drought-impacted regions and disruptions caused by severe weather, including higher temperatures, rising sea levels, more intense and frequent cyclonic activity in the Bay of Bengal, Arpita Bhattacharyya and Michael Werz of the Center for American Progress (CAP) forecast in a 2012 report. Coupled with high population density, regional governments will be hard put to cope with the challenges, according to the researchers.

Climate change also exacerbates the risk and threats associated with forced migrations in regions prone to armed conflict fueled by ethnic divisions, according to empirical research conducted by Carl-Friedrich Schleussner and colleagues at Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Correlating natural disasters with outbreaks of human conflict

Schleussner and research partners used a technique called event coincidence analysis and found that armed conflict and climate-related natural disasters coincided in about 23 percent of armed conflicts that occurred from 1980-2010 in countries where ethnic groups were highly fractionalized.

“Globally, we find a coincidence rate of 9 percent regarding armed-conflict outbreak and disaster occurrence such as heat waves or droughts,” the report authors state.

“Our analysis also reveals that, during the period in question…Although we do not report evidence that climate-related disasters act as direct triggers of armed conflicts, the disruptive nature of these events seems to play out in ethnically fractionalized societies in a particularly tragic way.

“This observation has important implications for future security policies as several of the world’s most conflict-prone regions, including North and Central Africa as well as Central Asia, are both exceptionally vulnerable to anthropogenic climate change and characterized by deep ethnic divides.”

Published in the current issue of the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the research report is available online.


*Image credits: 1) Center for American Progress; 2)  Press TV; 3) Schleussner et al, 2016, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

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