Turn climate migration from threat to opportunity says ADB

Date: 
March 14, 2012
Addressing climate change migration in APAC - ADB

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has warned of an upward surge in migration caused by climate change this century, and counseled governments in disaster-prone Asia-Pacific nations to promptly enact a broad range of measures to stave off future humanitarian crises.

In its new report, Addressing Climate Change and Migration in Asia and the Pacific, the ADB notes that more than 42 million people in the region were displaced by environmental disasters over the past two years alone. An undetermined number of those displaced became migrants, unable to return home or choosing to relocate to safer ground.

“The environment is becoming a significant driver of migration in Asia and the Pacific as the population grows in vulnerable areas, such as low-lying coastal zones and eroding river banks,” said Bindu Lohani, ADB’s vice president for knowledge management and sustainable development. “Governments should not wait to act. By taking steps now, they can reduce vulnerability, strengthen resiliency, and use migration as an adaptation tool rather than let it become an act of desperation.”

The report points out that while most migration will continue to take place within countries, greater cross-border movement is also foreseen and governments will need to co-operate more closely on migration matters. It also identifies existing international agreements, guidelines, principles, and dialogue forums that can be more effectively used to improve migration management.

To accommodate the anticipated increase in migrant flows to the region’s megacities, the ADB recommends greater investments in urban infrastructure and basic services. It also identifies a need to protect migrant rights and to provide migrants with equitable access to education, health, water and sanitation.

Develoment opportunity

“The countries of Asia and the Pacific can choose to turn the threat of climate-induced migration into an opportunity to improve lives, advance the development process, and adapt to long-term environmental change by altering development patterns, strengthening disaster risk management, investing in social protection, and facilitating the movement of labor,” Lohani wrote in the foreword to the report.

The report cites the importance of strengthening the resilience of climate-threatened communities. Areas for action include improving disaster risk management systems and creating livelihood opportunities. The report also notes that reducing transfer fees for migrant remittances can provide additional resources for migrant-sending communities to improve their adaptive capacity.

Launching the report at the 2nd Asia-Pacific Climate Change Adaptation Forum in Bangkok, Lohani said resources currently available to "climate-proof" roads, sewers, bridges and pipelines are grossly inadequate, and even more work is needed to improve data collection, early warning systems, and other activities vital to build climate resilient societies.

"Public lenders and private investors cannot continue to channel billions of dollars to massive infrastructure projects without factoring in the realities of warmer temperatures, rising sea levels and more violent storms," said Lohani.

Climate adaptation costs for Asia-Pacific nations are estimated at USD40 billion through 2050, and while there are environmental funds, none are currently dedicated to addressing climate-induced migration issues. The ADB recommends governments work with the private sector to introduce insurance indexed to sea levels, catastrophe bonds and weather derivatives to draw investors into financing and managing the risks posed by climate change.

Climate catastrophe

The new report gives many examples of the climate-induced disasters that have displaced people in the region over the past several years.

In Papua New Guinea, sea-level rise is putting the livelihoods of many island communities at risk, the report states. In 2007, the Government of Papua New Guinea, along with the autonomous government of Bougainville, decided to resettle inhabitants from the Carteret atoll and neighboring atolls to the island of Bougainville. This case of preventive resettlement is assisted by a nongovernment organization that has been specifically formed to coordinate with local people regarding their resettlement.

In July 2010, Pakistan was hit with heavy monsoon rains, which flooded much of the Indus River basin, displacing more than 10 million people, with about 20 percent of the country under water. About 2,000 people died in the disaster. According to the report, "The provision of international aid relief was widely considered as insufficient, and the floods took a very heavy toll on the country and its population, with millions of farmers housed in refugee camps, and crops and cattle destroyed."

In December 2011, Typhoon Washi ravaged the Philippines island of Mindanao and displaced more than 300,000 people, mostly in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan. Public health issues emerged as a result of the lack of adequate relocation facilities, which were urgently needed.