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Climate change now a factor in migration

10 July 20141 comment

Climate change has begun having an impact on migration; forcing people to leave their homes and jobs, according to news reports from Africa and the Pacific.

A report last month in ‘The Zimbabwean’ newspaper headlined “Climate change migration on the increase” told the story of several farmers forced to leave their land because of unprecedented drought.

“Makuleke village is a melting pot for illegal migrants from Zimbabwe and Mozambique searching for greener pastures in their wealthy southern neighbour. It is located on South Africa’s eastern border area with Mozambique on the outskirts of the Kruger National Park,” the report says

It cites the case of Zimbabwe farmer Timothy Murombedzi. Mr Murombedzi, 30, from Buhera district, is one of many people now living in South Africa illegally.

“I was a farmer in Zimbabwe but the climate conditions have become unpredictable. It is now difficult to have a good rain-fed cropping season. I used to have more than 20 head of cattle but lost 15 beasts due to drought. I came here in 2010 and am doing menial jobs on the local farms. It is better than watching my cattle dying back home.

Yes some people are running away from (President Robert) Mugabe’s iron-fist rule but I am not one of those people. I am running away from drought and hunger.”

The report said that Murombedzi is one of thousands of climate change refugees from Zimbabwe searching for a living in various countries in and outside Africa .

And the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is increasingly recognising that environmental degradation and climate change are among major drivers in both forced and voluntary migration.

The Zimbabwean report said: “Climate change threatens to cause one of the biggest refugee crises of all time and climate change experts have warned that up to 200 million people would be forced to abandon their homes over the course of the next century.

“Despite these shocking revelations, many African governments, Zimbabwe included, are not taking climate change migration seriously.”

US climate change activist and author Ross Gelbspan warns of continued crop failures, water shortages, and uncontrolled migration by people whose lands become less able to support them.

He says governments will become more totalitarian in their efforts to keep order in the face chaos.

Zimbabwean climate change journalist Fidelis Zvomuya, says farmers in Zimbabwe no longer employ as many workers as before due to persistent drought.

“This forces people to cross borders in search of employment in neighboring countries. The lack of food in areas like Matabeleland provinces in Zimbabwe where droughts are now an annual event is forcing people to cross to South Africa for jobs.”

Other commentators have pointed to the possibility of conflict arising out of the climate change crisis.

African climate change expert Mukundi Mutasa points out that southern Africa has suffered a number of climate-induced disasters in recent history. These include the flooding in the Zambezi Valley in Mozambique and Zimbabwe and in the Namibia’s Caprivi region, and droughts across the entire region.

He warns that mass movements stemming from, climate change have already resulted in conflict among people as they fight over resources.

But migration as a result of climate change is not isolated to the southern parts of Africa. The Horn of Africa and Sahel regions have experienced among the worst climate change induced famines, forcing people to seek refuge in other countries. Millions have been affected.

Poverty, failing ecosystems, vulnerability to natural hazards and gradual environmental changes have always been linked to migration. But experts say climate change is expected to significantly affect migration in three distinct ways.

First, the effects of warming and drying in some regions will reduce agricultural potential and undermine the provision of clean water and availability of fertile soil.

Second, the increase in extreme weather events such as heavy rains and resulting flash or river floods in tropical regions will affect even more people and generate mass displacement.

And thirdly, sea-level rise will permanently destroy extensive and highly productive low-lying coastal areas that are home to millions of people who will have to relocate permanently.

The effects of sea level rises are already being felt in the Pacific.

The island nation of Kiribati is slowly being drowned by rising sea levels and there are plans in place to escape.

The Guardian recently reported that Kiribati’s President Anote Tong paid around $US8.77 million for a 20 square kilometre piece of land in Fiji for his people.

He hopes that they will be able to buy more land to spread out but the plan is to try to make a new life for themselves there.