KARACHI: Climate change is a reality that has already begun showing its disastrous affects in various regions. It threatens human lives, ecosystems and even sovereignties of entire low-lying nation states, according to a report published by Oxfam in January 2019.
Despite the stubbornly ignorant insistence of some global leaders – looking at you Donald Trump – that climate change is a myth, fortunately most of the global community has finally woken to the dangers of climate change that scientists have been harping about for decades.
The Paris Agreement on Climate Change has approximately 197 signatories to date and aims to limit the global rise in temperature to 1.5°C. As a consequence of climate change, people across the globe are being forced to migrate as their existing areas of residence become increasingly uninhabitable.
The worst affected by climate change, however, are countries that have contributed disproportionately less towards the emission of greenhouse gases, which is the largest human factor contributing towards climate change.
According to a World Bank report published in 2018, Groundswell-Preparing for Internal Climate Migration, more than 140m people are expected to move within their countries by 2050, with most climate migration anticipated to be concentrated in South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, if the effects of climate change are not recognised and dealt with adequately.
The aforementioned Oxfam report, Climate Induced Migration in Sindh, Pakistan, claims that of these 140m, more than 40m people are anticipated to migrate within South Asia alone by 2050. Pakistan, a signatory to the Paris Agreement, is the seventhmost affected country impacted by weather-related events, as calculated through available data from 1997 to 2016, according to the 2018 Long-Term Climate Risk Index Pakistan.
During this 20-year period, the country saw 141 extreme weather-related calamities, taking the annual average death toll to 523 and causing an economic loss of USD3,816.82 million. In 2016 alone, there were 566 climate-induced casualties in Pakistan and the nation suffered a loss of USD47.31m.
The country saw 1,800 people displaced due to natural disasters in 2017. Sindh in particular has faced the consequences of climate change with living patterns and livelihoods of people being adversely affected.
Droughts in Thar, floods and cyclones in Badin, Sajiwal and Thatta in 2010 and 2011, heat waves in Karachi in recent years, particularly in 2015, are some of the affects that have already been felt. Furthermore, sea intrusion near the Indus Delta has triggered coastal floods and caused large scale inland migration.
Oxfam’s report cites rising sea levels, flooding and storms, inland sea water inundation, droughts, famines, extreme weather conditions, the ability of soil to support agriculture, loss of tourism and fishing as some of the reasons why inhabitants have been and will be forced to flee their existing settlements.
Internally displaced migrants generally come from the least financially stable sections of society and are often required to evacuate areas in a state of emergency. This results in them leaving behind most of their assets and belongings.
The report points out that when these migrants arrive to host communities, they are stripped entirely of their livelihood and prized belongings and hence impose an additional burden on the host community and potential aid provides.
“The cyclical nature of poverty is fed when internally displaced migrants leave their agricultural lands and source of income to migrate into labour saturated areas where employment opportunities are already limited,” states the report.
This can exacerbate tensions between the host community and the migrants as competition for employment, food security, health and educational resources, among other factors, is heightened.
Farming and fishing communities which have relied on these professions for generations to support their livelihood find themselves disrupted by the changing climate.
The Indus Delta Degradation, rise in sea levels and the inundation of saline water on land has resulted in entire communities being forced to abandon their ancestral profession.
Some communities are reluctant to leave the lands they have occupied for generations while others find themselves ill-equipped to enter other professions as agriculture, livestock breeding or fishing for instance was what they had prepared for their entire lives.
For some, rural to urban migration comes with a multitude of cultural and linguistic barriers which impede their rehabilitation.
Increased burden on women
Cultural reliance on male counterparts for financial support and security means that women are often further disadvantaged due to climate change.
Whether they have been left behind while male members of the family migrate to urban areas in search for livelihood, or they have accompanied the men, the patriarchal structure ensures that their decision making power is significantly disproportionate to their male counterparts.
Many women who work on agricultural land alongside their men are affected when weather extremities disrupt farming practices. Others find that the responsibility to find potable water for the family falls on them.
As Oxfam points out, the disruption of livelihoods due to climate change can incite skirmishes and tensions between families which subjects women to increased domestic violence.
Moreover, migrating increases stress and discomfort for women more so than men as they are also assigned the responsibility of caring for the old and young while traveling.
An alarming truth remains that most nations are not sufficiently equipped to deal with the looming disasters of climate change.
Along with legal, social and economic frameworks, even the language needed to combat climate change, is still being developed globally. Language, it must be noted, is crucial when it comes to implementing legal frameworks and establishing laws for the protection of those being affected by climate change.
Oxfam’s report points out that although the Paris Agreement mentions the need to accord protection to climate migrants thereby acknowledging that such a group exists, the term itself disputes a clear definition.
According to the International Organisation for Migration, semantically, climate migrants are best described as ‘persons or groups of persons who, for compelling reasons of sudden or progressive changes in the environment that adversely affect their lives or living conditions, are obliged to leave their habitual homes, or choose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, and who move either within their territory or abroad’.
Oxfam’s report highlights that this definition showcases importune reductionism where climate migrants cannot be classified as refugees and therefore are accorded no legal or protection rights under the Refugee Convention of 1951.
That is to say that the protection offered to safeguard the rights of those people who are displaced due to conflict and war by the 1951 convention does not apply to people displaced because of climate change.
As their rights are not safeguarded internationally the protection of climate induced migrants is susceptible to national and regional laws. Oxfam suggests the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement which are based upon existing international humanitarian laws as a reference point for nations dealing with climate induced migration.
Oxfam’s report focuses on internal climate induced migration in Sindh. What follows below is a brief summary of their research conducted in Thar, Badin, Sajiwal, Thatta and Karachi. Entire communities from Badin, Sajiwal and Thatta districts migrated to Karachi permanently after cyclones and floods of 2010 and 2011.
These communities expressed the absence of potable water for drinking, irrigation and livestock as their biggest problems in their original districts.
After migrating, they were compelled to settle on the outskirts of Karachi and their settlements consisted of congested households with little or no access to utilities.
They continue to live in squalor without access to bathrooms or proper villages. However, according to Oxfam, the migrants claim that the city provides them with better medical facilities than their villages had to offer and more opportunities for employment particularly for women who often work as domestic help.
One community, the report states, mentioned language as a barrier to their rehabilitation process. They had difficulty learning Urdu which affected their prospects in the city adversely, they said.
Although geographically susceptible to natural disasters, Pakistan did not have a permanent body to deal with disaster management till the October 8, 2005 earthquake, when the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority was founded.
In August 2018, the National Disaster Management (Amendment) 2017 bill was passed by the Senate leading to the formation of the Natural Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). It is responsible for disaster preparation, mitigation, risk reduction, relief and rehabilitation.
The federal authority works alongside provincial and district disaster management authorities and collectively the system is supposed to reduce risks and disaster induced vulnerabilities in the country.
A group of United Kingdom based non-governmental organisations commissioned a study and pointed out some shortcomings in Pakistan’s existing relief mechanisms.
“Whereas the NDMA and provincial authorities have improved their relief efforts in the past few years, it is mandatory that they include adaptation interventions within their ambit as well,” it stated. It also pointed out the need for greater funding, political support and co-ordination among stakeholders for more effective work.
The way forward
On Wednesday, Oxfam along with the International Union for Conservation of Nature, organised a dialogue on climate change in Sindh.
Some of the recommendations and policy initiatives included the allocation of finance nationally and internationally, better planning for climate induced migrating communities, sensitising national climate change policies and laws for this purpose, addressing drainage and irrigation issues in order to improve agriculture and the introduction of climate resilient techniques within the agricultural sector, among others.
The provision of potable water, addressing scarcity of water and ensuring food and fodder for rural communities and livestock were highlighted as crucial areas which need attention.
Oxfam’s complete report and a documentary on climate migration were presented and screened at the event. The dialogue focused on risks and threats faced by areas sensitive to climate change in Sindh and discussed major crises that await.
These included the protection of mangroves and fisheries in addition to climate-induced migration and its effect on women’s development, among other things.