Preventing a Future Exodus
By Shanuka Kadupitiyage
Ceylon Today Features
Climate change is becoming an increasingly relevant topic the world over. While we are aware of the shrinking ice-caps, homeless polar bears and species losing habitats (which are all effects of climate change), the truth is the things we talk about are only scratching the surface when it comes to the many problems that will arise because of climate change.
Just like a stacked row of dominoes, climate change is the start of a whole array of imminent crises that are actually happening today, although often gone unseen.
Climate change and human migration
When we speak of human migration, we often think of migrating to foreign countries in search of better employment and standard of living. However, that is only one aspect of human migration, people around the world also migrate to other countries due to acts of war, terrorism, political asylum and even climate change.
While each of these are tragic reasons, human migration due to climate change is increasingly becoming an issue that must be addressed at both the international and local levels.
Why does it happen?
With climate change causing global weather patterns to shift, the geography of the many nations have begun to change at a drastic pace, with desertification, temperature and climate shifts and flash floods being some of the many results of this. Naturally, when weather patterns become extreme and unpredictable, affected areas become less habitable for human and other animal life, causing people to leave their homes behind in search of more habitable lands.
The impact of these climate changes is already noticeable, from the increasing deserts of Africa to the shrinking lands of Kiribati and Maldives. It is also prevalent in Sri Lanka.
As dry spouts get longer by the year, and flash floods as well as landslides continue to occur, the habitable area in Sri Lanka for humans is changing right this moment, and people are starting to leave their ancestral homes behind, in search of better living conditions.
Why does it matter?
While migration in itself is not bad, mass migration caused by climate change is a cause for many other economic and societal issues. Also, while migrating to more habitable regions would temporarily alleviate the situation, it is by no ways a complete solution to the existing problem.
This is why The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) is working with Government institutions and academics to better understand Sri Lanka’s human migration caused by climate factors.
Understanding environmental migration
The IOM works with scientific studies to better understand environmental migration in order to prevent forced migration to the possible extent, to assist and protect affected populations that do have to migrate and to facilitate migration as a climate change adaptation strategy and enhance the resilience of affected communities.
With Sri Lanka being one of the most at-risk nations of the world relating to climate change, IOM is currently working on a new project called Migration, Environmental Degradation and Climate Change Project- Sri Lanka (MECC) to assess the migration trends of the Sri Lankan people in the districts most affected by climate change and understand if there is a correlation between that and the people’s migration trends.
Once the assessment is complete, a special programme will be held to distribute this research evidence and information to government and non-government stakeholders in order to enable them in making more informed decisions and implement future policies and plans.
Speaking with Ceylon Today, Chief of Mission IOM for Sri Lanka and Maldives, Sarat Dash explained, “As the leading intergovernmental agency working on migration, IOM recognises the necessity to step up national, regional and international efforts to address human mobility challenges associated with environmental factors and climate change.”
According to Head of the Unit, Neshan Gunasekara, the attention given towards climate migrants has finally increased after the 2015 Paris Agreement and has sparked a major movement towards addressing this pressing situation, which has led to actions such as the MECC project seen in Sri Lanka being implemented in many other countries as well.
“IOM Sri Lanka is partnered with the Ministry of Environment to strengthen Government efforts towards increasing community resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in Sri Lanka,” explained Senior Project Coordinator Rangitha Balasuriya.
“IOM Sri Lanka has also made necessary plans to offer technical assistance to the Government of Sri Lanka to understand the nexus between the three concepts of migration, environment and climate change. The first training takes place today (9) by collaborating with key government officials from the Ministry of Environment and other Cabinet and State Ministries,” she added.
As Sri Lanka moves towards facing the ongoing climate crisis and the human elements that occur as a result, it is good news to hear intergovernmental agencies taking steps forward in order to help the Local Government organisations to make better decisions and policies to help the people who are affected by it, in efforts to prevent more future exoduses.
(Pix by Ashan Gamage)