Drishtikon: Climate Refugees: Climate Change and Disaster-induced Migration and Displacement of Persons with Disabilities

The Sangyan
11 min readMar 20, 2022

‘जननी जन्मभूमिश्च स्वर्गादपि गरीयसी’

[One’s mother and motherland are superior to the highest heavens.]

~ वाल्मीकि रामायण

Introduction

“Climate Change is on a complete collision course right now with civilization as we know it”, “We have had lots of civilizations collapse in the past from environmental cause”, “These are really the human faces of climate change”, “Nature is now at war with us”, “That will change all sorts of the places when you get scare resources or if you get change so radical that people cannot function you have huge displacement”, “The threat of refugees as a consequence of climate change is an enormous national security issue”, “Europe is spending millions to defend itself against immigration from Africa”, “When the Pentagon begins to think about what might happen that’s a clear indication that we have to start taking something seriously”, “Challenge is no longer to save the planet the challenge now is to save the civilization itself and that is not a spectator sport”, “We are gonna have to rethink climate changes being some remote environmental issue that the scientists will work out over there”, “We are dealing with the fact that there is a gap between what the law provides and what the world needs”.[1]

These phrases from Michael Nash’s documentary film, ‘Climate Refugees, ’ highlight the humanitarian crisis of disasters and climate change from the focal point of the intersection of overpopulation and depleting scarce resources. The film provides a good snapshot of the climate change crisis-induced human migration and forced displacement.

The world is already facing a refugee crisis and conflicts arising from armed conflicts and wars (Syria), political and religious prosecution (Pakistan), economic reasons (Bangladesh), et al., where people in the hope for a better future flee their homes. But with the pace climate change crisis is approaching the human population, the refugee crisis is going to face a cascading effect of unprecedented frequency and intensity (Maldives).

Climate change crisis-induced migration and forced displacement would not merely adversely affect the already disadvantaged groups (women, indigenous population, children, adult people, and people with disabilities) but would also have a cascading effect on such vulnerable groups given their reduced capability and resources to mitigate and adapt to the climate change crisis and disasters. The socio-economic, Polito-cultural, sexual, and physical abuse and other forms of exploitation upon the following migration and forced displacement often result in capability and income deprivation, triggering the vicious cycle of poverty. Upon migration and forced displacement, people often also face an identity crisis.

The climate change crisis has rolled out an ‘Era of Consequences’, an era where climate change crisis-induced migration and forced displacement would not be limited to adverse impacts on habitats and ecosystems becoming unlivable for humans but going forward would also drastically affect the flora and fauna upon whom humans are completed dependent in the food chain and otherwise. This would also adversely affect the habitats and ecosystems of places humans, along with their livestock, will migrate to as the mass influx of human population would increase the pressure multifold on already scared existing resources and, ergo, consequently leading to conflicts and poverty.

IPCC Report — Red Code for Humanity

The politics might still be going on, but the science remains settled. The climate change crisis is not just real but affecting our lives in a manner we haven’t thought about and imagined earlier. The world doesn’t need another COP, and the IPCC reports warning about the danger, not anymore, as the danger isn’t around the corner but facing eye to eye. It has reached the point of “no time to ignore”.

The projected impacts of the climate change crisis comprise the rising temperature that increases the likelihood of the threat of heatwaves across the Indian sub-continent, droughts in arid and semi-arid areas of South Asia, extreme precipitation, and floods in monsoon regions, and glacier melting in the Himalaya region.[2] With the era of consequences already in action, the future impacts of climate change will further reduce suitable habitats and ecosystems for wildlife and other species (including humans), which would have a cascading effect on humans, too, consequently leading to climate change crisis-induced migration and forced-displacement at a mass level resulting in a global humanitarian crisis of unprecedented magnitude.

Future, the climate change crisis will also cause biodiversity and habitat loss in many parts of the Indian subcontinent. The risk of irreversible loss of coral reefs, tidal marshes, savanna and grasslands, seagrass meadows, plankton community, and other marine and coastal ecosystems increases with global warming, especially at a 2°C temperature rise or more.[3]

The climate change crisis is also increasing the cases of vector-borne and water-borne diseases, malnutrition and undernutrition, mental disorders, and allergic diseases by increasing the hazards like heatwaves, extreme precipitation, flood, drought, air pollution, et al., in combination with higher exposure and vulnerability. In addition to all that, it also increases mortality, deaths related to circulatory, respiratory, diabetic, and infectious diseases, as well as infant mortality increased with high temperature.[4]

The increase in heavy rain and temperature will further increase the risk of diarrheal diseases, dengue fever, chikungunya infection, and malaria in tropical and subtropical regions of Asia. More frequent hot days and intense heat waves will increase heat-related health issues and deaths.[5]

By the mid of the twenty-first century, the international transboundary river basins of the Indus, Ganga, et al. could face severe water scarcity challenges due to climatic variability and changes acting as stress multipliers affecting billions of people in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Due to global warming, the countries in the Asian region could also experience an increase in drought conditions by the end of this century.[6] Glacier lake outburst flood (GLOF) will threaten the security of the local and downstream communities in High Mountain regions of Himalaya[7], which would drastically put Himalayan infrastructure under pressure and the human population at high risk in Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh in India.

Increased floods and droughts, together with heat stress, will have an adverse impact on agriculture, consequently affecting the food availability and prices of food, resulting in poverty and increased undernourishment in the Indian subcontinent region.[8]

The Indian subcontinent is also experiencing intense heatwaves and a hotter summer climate, resulting in an increase of energy demand for cooling purposes at a very rapid rate, together with population growth leading to further global warming as still the primary source of energy remains fossil fuels. A decrease in precipitation affects the energy demand as well, as desalination, water purification, underground water pumping, and other energy-intensive methods are increasingly used for water consumption and supply.[9] The climate change crisis exposes India to high energy insecurity and threatens our national security, which kick-starts the vicious cycle of an increase in fossil fuel-based energy production and consumption that further results in global warming and climate change crisis.

The climate change crisis causes economic and opportunity cost losses due to infrastructure damages, disruption in services, and affected supply chains, however, it will also provide opportunities to invest in climate-resilient infrastructure and green jobs.[10]

The increased climate variability and extreme events are already driving migration. Irrespective of the methodological disagreement among the scientists on the detection and attribution of migration due to the climate change crisis, there is reasonable consensus that higher warming and associated changes in frequency and intensity of slow-onset events (such as drought and sea-level rise) and rapid-onset events (such as cyclones and flooding) will increase the forced displacement in the coming times. In 2019, Bangladesh, China, India, and the Philippines each recorded more than 4 million disaster-induced displacements. In South-East and East Asia, cyclones, floods, et al., triggered internal displacement of over 9.6 million people in 2019, which amounted to almost 30% of total global displacements.[11]

Due to the exposure to climate-driven adverse impacts, for instance, heat waves, extreme precipitation, hailstorms, and floods, et al., along with rapid urbanisation, lack of universal design and inaccessible urban infrastructure, and climate-insensitive urban planning, marginalised urban populations like people with disability and the older population have become most vulnerable.[12]

Disability, Displacement, and Climate Change

In order to capture the complexity of the issue given no existing definition, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has put forward a working definition of environmental migrants as “persons or groups of persons who, for 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 country or abroad.”[13]

Understanding that climate change and disasters, along with biodiversity loss, conflict, and pandemics, act as a ‘threat multiplier’ having a disproportionate, cascading, and compounding impact on vulnerable communities, including children, women, old adults, and people with disabilities because of vulnerable communities’ greater exposure, higher sensitivity, and lower ability to adapt (capability deprivation owing to climate change-induced disasters).

Persons with Disabilities are among the most vulnerable community in that respect.[14] People with better capabilities approach migration and displacement in a better and planned manner; however, vulnerable communities, for instance, people with disabilities and the older population, often get trapped in vulnerable regions.[15]

More than the two-third population of people with disabilities inhabits low and middle-income regions or countries, among whom the majority are highly vulnerable to climate change and which impacts the experience and extent of their disability.[16] Climate change results in a higher risk of enforced migration and displacement because of increased frequency and intensity of extreme climatic conditions and weather events, for instance, heatwaves, cyclones, floods, thunderstorms and hailstorms, drought, et al., in addition to environmental degradation that consequently adversely impacts the livelihood and survival of the inhabitants, especially the vulnerable communities like people with disabilities, women, older population, et al.[17]

People with disabilities, among other vulnerable communities like women and the older population, because of disasters and climate change, suffer increased risks and barriers to accessibility and inclusion, resulting in additional and specific needs during migration and displacement.

People with disabilities face income and capability deprivation owning to adverse impacts of disasters and climate change coupled with their disability resulting in poverty, food insecurity, the health care crisis, inadequate housing, et al. [18], leading to their forced migration and displacement.[19]

People with disabilities also suffer from accessing education for various reasons and often face different accessibility barriers in accessing relevant information and resources, which hinder their knowledge as well as their capacity to mitigate and adapt to disasters and climate change.[20]

Before, during, and after the disasters and climate crisis, people with disabilities are subject to accessibility issues, whether during the evacuation, at shelter homes, health care facilities, et al., which consequently results in their increased mortality rate. Further, being socio-economically backward, people with disabilities are also subject to discrimination, exploitation, physical and sexual abuse, and violence not merely before and during the disasters and climate crisis in the course of evacuation but also at the place of their migration and forced displacement to cause a humanitarian crisis.[21]

Conclusion

In the era of global warming, nothing is really far away”.[22]

The IPCC Report provides some recommendations and suggestions to counter environmental migration and forced displacement, which comprises measures like climate-smart agriculture, habitat and ecosystem-based and disability-inclusive disaster risk reduction mechanism, building urban blue-green infrastructure, mitigation and adaptation, and sustainable development goals simultaneously, carving ways for climate-resilient development (CRD) pathways. Further, the appropriate climate risks, vulnerability, and adaptation measures also need to be factored into decision-making while drafting and formulating policies and laws across all levels of governance.[23]

One area that needs urgent attention in that respect is statistics and data of migration and forced displacement of vulnerable communities like people with disabilities and older populations for drafting better policies and laws.

In addition to multiplying the economic burden and pressurising the already scarce resources, migrants are often not welcomed by the host community owing to various social, political, cultural, and other reasons leading to conflicts, ergo, better than preparing and planning for climate change crisis-induced migration and forced displacement; it’s better we focus on the climate change itself. We need to counter the source problem rather than try to delay and stop the impacts of the very problem.

The principle of “nothing about us without us” needs to be the focal point while planning, organising, and executing disability-inclusive disaster risk reduction and climate action plans and strategies. People with disabilities are best placed to understand and identify their specific needs, ergo, need to play a crucial role in designing universally accessible infrastructure, evaluating disaster risk reduction, climate mitigation and adaptation, and humanitarian responses to counter the migration and forced displacement-related risks, vulnerability, and impacts.

References

[1] Climate Refugees, Available at <https://youtu.be/28MH3jZlucc> Accessed on 12th March 2022.

[2] Observed and projected climate change impacts, Fact Sheet — Asia, Climate Change Impacts and Risks, IPCC Sixth Assessment Report, Working Group II — Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, Available at <https://report.ipcc.ch/ar6wg2/pdf/IPCC_AR6_WGII_FactSheet_Asia.pdf> Accessed on 04th March 2022.

[3] Ecosystems, Fact sheet — Asia, Climate Change Impacts and Risks, SIXTH ASSESSMENT REPORT, Working Group II — Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, Available at <https://report.ipcc.ch/ar6wg2/pdf/IPCC_AR6_WGII_FactSheet_Asia.pdf> Accessed on 11th March 2022.

[4] Health, Fact sheet — Asia, Climate Change Impacts and Risks, SIXTH ASSESSMENT REPORT, Working Group II — Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, Available at <https://report.ipcc.ch/ar6wg2/pdf/IPCC_AR6_WGII_FactSheet_Asia.pdf> Accessed on 11th March 2022.

[5] Health, Fact sheet — Asia, Climate Change Impacts and Risks, SIXTH ASSESSMENT REPORT, Working Group II — Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, Available at <https://report.ipcc.ch/ar6wg2/pdf/IPCC_AR6_WGII_FactSheet_Asia.pdf> Accessed on 11th March 2022.

[6] Water, Fact sheet — Asia, Climate Change Impacts and Risks, SIXTH ASSESSMENT REPORT, Working Group II — Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, Available at <https://report.ipcc.ch/ar6wg2/pdf/IPCC_AR6_WGII_FactSheet_Asia.pdf> Accessed on 11th March 2022.

[7] Cryosphere, Fact sheet — Asia, Climate Change Impacts and Risks, SIXTH ASSESSMENT REPORT, Working Group II — Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, Available at <https://report.ipcc.ch/ar6wg2/pdf/IPCC_AR6_WGII_FactSheet_Asia.pdf> Accessed on 11th March 2022.

[8] Food, Fact sheet — Asia, Climate Change Impacts and Risks, SIXTH ASSESSMENT REPORT, Working Group II — Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, Available at <https://report.ipcc.ch/ar6wg2/pdf/IPCC_AR6_WGII_FactSheet_Asia.pdf> Accessed on 11th March 2022.

[9] Energy, Fact sheet — Asia, Climate Change Impacts and Risks, SIXTH ASSESSMENT REPORT, Working Group II — Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, Available at <https://report.ipcc.ch/ar6wg2/pdf/IPCC_AR6_WGII_FactSheet_Asia.pdf> Accessed on 11th March 2022.

[10] Cities and Settlements, Fact sheet — Asia, Climate Change Impacts and Risks, SIXTH ASSESSMENT REPORT, Working Group II — Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, Available at <https://report.ipcc.ch/ar6wg2/pdf/IPCC_AR6_WGII_FactSheet_Asia.pdf> Accessed on 11th March 2022.

[11] Migration, Fact sheet — Asia, Climate Change Impacts and Risks, SIXTH ASSESSMENT REPORT, Working Group II — Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, Available at <https://report.ipcc.ch/ar6wg2/pdf/IPCC_AR6_WGII_FactSheet_Asia.pdf> Accessed on 11th March 2022.

[12] Fact sheet — Human Settlements, Climate Change Impacts and Risks, SIXTH ASSESSMENT REPORT, Working Group II — Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, Available at

<https://report.ipcc.ch/ar6wg2/pdf/IPCC_AR6_WGII_FactSheet_HumanSettlements.pdf> Accessed on 12th March 2022.

[13] Definitional Issues, International Organization for Migration, Available at <https://www.iom.int/definitional-issues#:~:text=%22Environmental%20migrants%20are%20persons%20or,who%20move%20either%20within%20their> Accessed on 19th March 2022.

[14] Vincent Houver, Why Disability matters to IOM, Available at <https://weblog.iom.int/why-disability-matters-iom> Accessed on 19th March 2022.

[15] Md Shamsuddoha, Sajid Raihan, et al, Displacement and Migration from Climate Hot-spots in Bangladesh Causes and Consequences, ActionAid Bangladesh, 2012, Available at <https://unfccc.int/files/adaptation/groups_committees/loss_and_damage_executive_committee/application/pdf/displacement_and_migration_in_bangladesh.pdf> Accessed on 19th March 2022.

[16] World Report on Disability, World Health Organization, 2011, Available at <https://www.who.int/disabilities/world_report/2011/report.pdf?ua=1> Accessed on 18th March 2022.

[17] Disability, Displacement, and Climate Change, Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 2021, Available at <https://www.internal-displacement.org/publications/disability-displacement-and-climate-change> Accessed on 18th March 2022.

[18] Abhishek Kumar, Climate Change, Disability, and the Capability Approach, The Sangyan, Available at <https://sangyan.medium.com/climate-change-disability-and-the-capability-approach-916a2fdfae41> Accessed on 18th March 2022.

[19] Maria Kett, Ellie Col, et al, Disability, and Climate Resilience: A literature review, Disability, and Climate Resilience Research Project, Available at <https://asksource.info/sites/asksource.info/files/Disability_and_Climate_Resilience_Lit_review%281%29.pdf> Accessed on 18th March 2022.

[20] Living with Disability and Disasters, UNISDR 2013 Survey on Living with Disabilities and Disasters — Key Findings, 2014, Available at <https://www.unisdr.org/2014/iddr/documents/2013DisabilitySurveryReport_030714.pdf> Accessed on 18th March 2022.

[21] Disability, Displacement, and Climate Change, Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), April 2021, Available at <https://www.internal-displacement.org/sites/default/files/publications/documents/Disability_Displacement_Climate%20Change.pdf> Accessed on 19th March 2022.

[22] Amitav Ghosh, Sundarbans: The Next Climate Refugees, Available on <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0xD4lg2Vmg> Accessed on 12th March 2022.

[23] Adaptation options, Fact sheet — Asia, Climate Change Impacts and Risks, SIXTH ASSESSMENT REPORT, Working Group II — Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, Available at <https://report.ipcc.ch/ar6wg2/pdf/IPCC_AR6_WGII_FactSheet_Asia.pdf> Accessed on 11th March 2022.

About the Author

Abhishek Kumar, NCPEDP-Javed Abidi Fellow on Disability and the ideator, curator and founder of The Sangyan.
The author can be reached at: abhishek.ncpedp@gmail.com

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The Sangyan

Law. Environment. Disability | Curator ~ Adv. Abhishek Kumar | Working on the 'Impact of Climate Change on Persons with Disabilities' | thesangyan.in | 🇮🇳 |