More than 30 million climate migrants in Asia in 2010, report finds

Numbers of people displaced by environmental and weather-related disasters likely to increase, Asian Development Bank warns
Fiona Harvey 19 Sep 11;

More than 30 million people were displaced last year by environmental and weather-related disasters across Asia, experts have warned, and the problem is only likely to grow worse as climate change exacerbates such problems.

Tens of millions more people are likely to be similarly displaced in the future by the effects of climate change, including rising sea levels, floods, droughts and reduced agricultural productivity. Such people are likely to migrate in regions across Asia, and governments must start to prepare for the problems this will create, the Asian Development Bank warned.

The costs will be high – about $40bn is the likely price for adapting and putting in place protective measures, from sea walls to re-growing mangrove swamps that have been cut down, and that can help to protect against the impacts of storm surges.

But the problem is already taking effect, though at a much lower scale than is likely in the future. "While large-scale climate-induced migration is a gradual phenomenon, communities in Asia and the Pacific are already experiencing the consequences of changing environmental conditions including eroding shorelines, desertification and more frequent severe storms and flooding," the bank said at a workshop last week. This could lead to a widespread crisis across the region in coming years, if preparations are not made to deal with the current and probable future consequences.

Robert Dobias, climate change project chief at the Asian Development Bank, said that at present climate change is still a relatively small cause of migration, as economic causes loom largest and as environmental disasters happen independently of global warming. However, the problem is likely to increase in future years, with potentially severe consequences, including conflict as people are forced to move long distances.

Areas most at risk are low-lying islands such as the Maldives, whose environment minister, Mohamed Aslam, said the populations of entire islands in the archipelago had been forced to move. But coastal cities in developed regions could also face the threat of higher seas and storm surges, while regions that already suffer severe floods such as Bangladesh will have their risks intensified.

The Asian Development Bank warned that governments must start to make preparations now, to be ready for the multiplying threats, and because more extreme weather has already started to take effect, though changes so far have not been dramatic in their impact. "The number of extreme weather events is increasing and Asia and the Pacific is the region at the epicentre of weather disasters," the group said.

The bank is working on a report that will set out in detail the likely problems and propose a range of potential policy changes to help to deal with them. The report will be published next spring, though preliminary research is being disclosed at a series of regional conferences in the intervening months.

The probable solutions are likely to include measures to improve vital infrastructure, such as energy provision, transport systems and communication networks, in order to make such infrastructure more resilient to the effects of climate change.