Thousands of migrants in overcrowded and contaminated refugee camps face health threats from climate change, according to a University of Birmingham study. Locating camps in disaster-prone or climate-critical areas increases their vulnerability and, coupled with the stress of overcrowding that increases pressure on water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH) resilience, leads to overexploitation of resources.
Climate change threatens refugees
The combination depletes groundwater, pollutes surface water, changes river dynamics, and results in the dumping of sewage into rivers, threatening future efforts to help refugees.
Just four large camps together house more than one million migrants, and almost 86% of the estimated 82.4 million displaced people are hosted in developing countries with 65% of the camps located in critical climatic zones.
Researchers from the University of Birmingham published their findings in the International Journal of Water Resources Development.
- Environmental health is not widely considered.
- System-wide sustainability pre-planning in access and services quality in camps is absent.
- Impact of interrelated ecological, institutional, and cultural factors is not considered.
People living in camps often lack safe access to clean water or have a shared toilet system and the health of many is already stressed from water-borne diseases, such as cholera and diarrhoea. Public health-related impacts from natural climate disasters or man-made hazards in often-overcrowded refugee camps are more devastating than in any other setting if not prepared for or mitigated through sustainability planning.”Advertisement
Professor Iseult Lynch – University of BirminghamAdvertisement
The forecasts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) leave little doubt: desertification and rising sea levels will push not millions, but tens, even hundreds of millions of refugees on the roads within a few decades.
An estimated one million migrants can be accommodated in just four large refugee camps. Nearly 86% of the estimated 82.4 million displaced people live in developing countries, with 65% of camps in climatic hotspots.
Climate change is having a negative impact on people’s livelihoods and harming the habitability of areas that are highly exposed to it, with powerful effects on internal migration. By 2050, sub-Saharan Africa could register up to 86 million internal climate migrants; East Asia and the Pacific, 49 million; South Asia, 40 million; North Africa, 19 million; Latin America, 17 million; and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 5 million.
It is estimated that there are two types of threats depending on the time of impact:
The sudden threats
These are the ones that today are more responsible for population displacements: hurricanes, cyclones, typhoons, storms, floods…
- In Pakistan, in August 2022, exceptional rains plunged a third of the territory under water and forced millions of people to abandon their homes.
- In the Philippines in 2021, due to events like Typhoon Rai, more than 5 million forced displacements were recorded. Today, more than 700,000 people are still far from their homes, without the possibility of returning home.
Threats of long-term effect
The impacts are more gradual, long-term, but the consequences are just as catastrophic: drought, desertification, rising sea levels
In Niger and throughout the central Sahel region , the drought, the lean seasons and the exceptional rains that follow are gradually settling into normality. Droughts are getting worse, degrading the soil, making it impossible to feed livestock enough. The lean seasons are getting longer, increasing the duration of the periods during which there is a lack of food and plunging the local populations into serious food crises. In this context, the possibilities of a dignified future for young people diminish and tensions between communities increase.
How does climate change affect refugees?
In 2020, UNHCR deployed teams to assist with relief efforts in Central America and southern Mexico, where an estimated three million people were affected by Hurricane Eta, one of the worst weather-related disasters in the region. in the last two decades.
When Tropical Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in March 2019, UNHCR relocated refugee families to safer shelters, providing them with tents, plastic sheeting, sanitation equipment and clean water. Similarly, UNHCR has been helping Rohingya refugees in southern Bangladesh mitigate the effects of monsoon storms, floods and landslides.
People already displaced for reasons other than disaster-related hazards, including refugees, stateless persons and internally displaced persons, often reside in climate change “hotspots” where they may be exposed to secondary displacement and reduced chances of being able to return home.
This is the case in the Sahel region, which is facing one of the fastest-growing displacement crises in the world. In this region, intense and largely indiscriminate violence perpetrated by armed actors has forced nearly 3 million people to flee both within countries and across borders. This growing humanitarian and protection emergency is exacerbating pre-existing challenges facing the region, including climate change and environmental degradation.
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