What do Togo, Germany, Mexico and Papua New Guinea have in common? Climate change refugees. Changing water cycles and weather patterns are forcing thousands to relocate around the world.
I’ve written about the concept of climate change refugees before-the thousands of residents on the Carteret Islands are already starting to move to a larger Papua New Guinea island. While there is still debate over whether their fate is due to climate change and rising sea levels or the natural life cycle of an atoll due to volcanic activity, what is evident is that the number of people being relocated due to water disasters is growing.
Joydeep Gupta recently wrote about several cases of relocation due to the impact of climate change on water cycles.
The latest UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn, Germany concluded two weeks of talks in preparation for December’s summit in Copenhagen where nations from around the world will meet in hopes of creating a global agreement to battle climate change.
Currently many lives are being affected, Sean Alouka grew up in Tsiko, Togo along the Wuto river. His parents were the traditional water carriers of the village, but by the time he was a teenager the river had gone dry and they no longer had work. Alouka explained the situation this way:
“Our months are named after seasons, but now they mean nothing. The rains come at different times, no one knows when to sow. You cannot live like that. I migrated to Lome (the capital), and every day I get phone calls from people in my village, asking if they can come over. They are coming to my house in the slums. How long can I keep them? So they are building more shacks. There’s no work for them. So they’re borrowing money and becoming taxi drivers. Even then they cannot feed their families. The price of maize went up by five times in the last one year.”
A similar tragedy is occurring in Germany, where the weather has affected water cycles that farmers depend on.
“Now we have proof of significant changes in weather, month by month, since the early 1990s. June has become much warmer and drier, so our apples don’t get the water they need then. Instead, there’s a lot more rain in August than there used to be, with the result that fungal diseases on apple trees have increased many times. There are such huge fluctuations in farm output that some farmers are going out of business,” said Peter Triloff, who advises farmers throughout Germany.
Another recent report from the UN called “In Search of Shelter: Mapping the Effects of Climate Change on Human Migration and Displacement” was released this week after the meeting in Bonn. The report predicts that 700 million people worldwide will be displaced by climate change by 2050. In addition to the cases I have written about here, the report says that African countries that rely heavily on agriculture will be hit especially hard by the changes in climate.
Other groups have made similar predictions. In 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted that climate change would not create the same global warming across the planet but would instead increase fluctuations in “extreme weather events.”
There is evidence of such fluctuations in Mexico.
“Northern Mexico is dependent on a short rainy season, but that’s not happening any more. Cattle and crops are being destroyed there, while central Mexico is suffering from forest fires and the south of the country from floods. What can people do? They’re moving into cities where there are no jobs, so the crime rate keeps going up. Leave alone provide jobs, cities cannot even provide water to so many people. In Mexico City, where I now live, only 40 percent of the water needed is being supplied. There are fights over water breaking out all the time. It’s a vicious cycle,” said Ana Romero who grew up in Guadalajara.
With rivers and rain drying up around the world and weather patterns changing in areas that depend on water cycles to survive, climate change refugees are becoming a reality. A lot of hope rests on the coming Copenhagen summit, as there are few actionable decisions being made at the current meetings.
“I don’t know what they are talking about, since they are not doing anything. These (the government delegates) are not the people who should be deciding the future of the world. What should speak here is science, the facts,” said Alouka.
For now, decisions and next steps remain a mystery. What is not a mystery is that the effects of climate change on water are creating ripples in the water cycles and weather patterns that are leading to waves of climate change refugees. Only time will tell if those waves will become a flood.