Climate change could displace 25 million by 2010 (With Image)

June 10th, 2009 - 2:35 pm ICT by IANS  

By Joydeep Gupta
Bonn, June 10 (IANS) By next year - that’s how soon around 25-50 million people will be displaced by climate change as it unleashes more natural disasters and affects farm output, says a senior UN researcher. Northern India will be among the worst affected in the long term.

“Climate change will displace 25-50 million people by next year. The situation will be the worst in the poorer countries,” says Koko Warner of the UN University’s Institute for Environment and Human Security.

“Most people will seek shelter in their own countries while others (will) cross borders in search of better odds.

“Societies affected by climate change may find themselves locked into a downward spiral of ecological degradation, towards the bottom of which social safety nets collapse while tensions and violence rise.”

Warner has just completed a study on climate-induced migration in collaboration with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Columbia University, the World Bank and the NGO CARE.

Warner and her colleagues have been pushing delegates from 182 countries gathered here for a meeting June 1-12 to include migration among the issues they consider as they prepare for a climate summit in Copenhagen this December.

“As climate change increases the frequency and intensity of natural hazards such as cyclones, floods and droughts, the number of temporarily displaced people will rise,” Warner told IANS in an interview.

“This will be especially true in countries that fail to invest now in disaster risk reduction and where the official response to disasters is limited.”

Her study confirms that ‘glacier melt’ will affect major agricultural systems in Asia. As the storage capacity of glaciers declines, short-term flood risks increase. The consequences of glacier melt would threaten food production in some of the world’s most densely populated regions.

In 2000, the river basins of the Indus, Ganga, Brahmaputra, Irrawaddy, Salween, Mekong, Yangtze, and Huang He collectively supported 1.4 billion people, almost a quarter of the world’s population.

Himalayan glaciers are already in retreat. Their dependence on glacier runoff makes downstream populations particularly vulnerable to the consequences, Warner pointed out. The Ganga irrigates 17.9 million hectares in northern India.

“The potential for migration out of irrigated areas could be significant,” Warner added.

“Although destination areas are hard to predict, it is likely that most migrating or displaced people would move to small to medium sized cities inland, and a smaller number would move to large megacities along the coasts or on the main branches of river systems, like Delhi. Many South Asian cities lack the capacity to absorb significant migration streams.”

However, Warner said: “There is potential for significant water saving efficiencies in irrigated areas of Asia, and if properly implemented this may forestall displacements of farmers.

Warner said in the densely populated Ganga, Mekong and Nile river deltas, a sea level rise of one metre could affect 23.5 million people and reduce the land currently under intensive agriculture by at least 1.5 million hectares.

A sea level rise of two metres would impact an additional 10.8 million people and render at least 969,000 more hectares of agricultural land unproductive.

“Many people won’t be able to flee far enough to adequately avoid the negative impacts of climate change,” the researcher warned, “unless they receive support.”

But she said, “Sensationalist warnings must not be permitted to trigger reactionary policies aimed at blocking the movement of environmental refugees without genuine concern for their welfare.”

Countries attending this preparatory meeting are grappling with how much money each will get to adapt to climate change.

“Remember that people displaced by the chronic impacts of climate change, like inadequate rainfall and sea level rise, will require permanent resettlement,” Warner said.

(Joydeep Gupta can be contacted at

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