Remember those 10 crises and trends to watch in 2019 we presented back in January? We’ve been keeping an eye on them, reporting on how areas from climate change to political transitions in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo are impacting humanitarian needs and response. With 2019 just about half over, it’s time for an update.
Here’s what’s changed over the past six months, what we’re paying special attention to, and how it may affect the lives and livelihoods of people on the ground. Look for two updates every day this week, starting today with climate displacement and Syria.
Vulnerable communities around the world have long known what the aid sector is just beginning to articulate: climate change is a humanitarian issue, and its fingerprints are all over today’s emergencies.
Climate shocks and disasters continued to fuel displacement around the globe through the first half of the year, from tropical cyclones to slow-burning droughts. Pacific Island nations were on high alert early in the year as storm after storm swept through the region in quick succession. Conflict is as dangerous as ever in Afghanistan, yet the number of people displaced by drought and floods in recent months is on par with the numbers fleeing war. Drought has left 45 million in need in eastern, southern, and the Horn of Africa. This, along with conflict, has spurred new displacement in countries like Somalia, where at least 49,000 people have fled their homes so far this year, according to UNHCR. The UN’s refugee agency warns of “growing climate-related displacement” – a sign of the continuing shift in the aid sector as humanitarian-focused agencies increasingly underline the links between climate change and crises.
Why we’re watching:
Disaster displacement is nothing new, of course, but what’s rapidly evolving is the ability to trace the roots of these crises to a changing climate. One example: research released late last year found that climate change doubled the likelihood of extreme pre-monsoon rains that struck northeastern Bangladesh in 2017. In March, two years after the resulting floods, our reporting from the epicentre found half-empty villages and rice farmers abandoning their failing crops to move to Dhaka, the congested capital, for good. The World Bank estimates there could be 140 million internal climate migrants by 2050. There are complex economic reasons why people pack up and leave, and quantifying the sheer scale of climate displacement is an inexact science because of this. But Bangladesh’s northeast ricebowl offers a real-time glimpse of how these staggering displacement warnings unfold: one depleted village at a time.
Keep in mind:
Migration experts say the vast majority of climate-fuelled displacement happens within a country’s own borders. So the nuts and bolts of how to adapt fall on vulnerable local communities and governments themselves (albeit with more equitable adaptation funding, they hope, from the wealthy nations most responsible for climate change). Some of these communities are the ones leading the way in preparing for tomorrow’s crises today. Pastoralist groups in northern Kenya, for example, have formed peace committees to negotiate access (and avoid bloodshed) as people migrate in search of water and land. And Pacific governments like Fiji and Vanuatu have recently passed laws governing planned relocations of entire villages – often complicated by ancestral land rights – and national policies on climate displacement.
(TOP PHOTO: Villagers walk along the banks of the Surma River in northeastern Bangladesh.)