Camp Dadaab is the world’s largest and most extreme example of humanity’s failure to provide solutions to the problem of climate caused mass migration. We have to multiply Dadaab’s population of 500,000 by 300, however, to get a sense of the 150 million climate refugees the world will face in 2050. The camp provides an unsettling premonition of what the future might hold if we don’t step up to more effectively manage migration.
Dadaab is a refugee camp in Kenya which has been in existence for 20 years. Until 2011 it provided a haven largely for people fleeing the violence in Somalia. In 2011 its numbers swelled by an additional 160,000 refugees to 500,000 people, with the new migrants seeking shelter from the drought in Africa.
Administered by the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees, Dadaab’s increase in population by roughly 30% was not anticipated and has overwhelmed the resources donated by a number of aid organizations and the United Nations. Obviously, any and all donations would be helpful. Targeted relief organizations are identified below.
Not only is the Dadaab warehousing of refugees not working but it clearly will fail to address the upcoming needs when the number of people is hundreds of times larger. At present, out of the camp’s 500,000 people, about 230,000 are children which reflects that in most of Africa another child is viewed as a positive economic asset, e.g. more hands to mind the animals, perform chores, work to support the family. Seventy percent of these children at Dadaab are not in school and consequently not developing skills that can be put to use in the future.
Some 130,000 refugees are forced to live in tents which deteriorate rapidly in the harsh climate. At present there is funding for the construction of only 4,000 semi-permanent shelters when some 30,000 are needed. Water, sanitation, and medical services are falling woefully behind the burgeoning demands. Camps such as these must be viewed as only temporary way-stations not a permanent home in themselves. They must serve as a jumping off point for migration to a more permanent location.
In the November 2011 post, “Weather Goest Thou?” we discussed the inevitable large scale human migration as a result of climate change and the woeful lack of planning for how the world should respond. Two groups were cited as attempting to plan ahead, the government of the U.K. and a panel of scientists under the auspices of Columbia University (see links below).
Part of the climate migration problem is the need to give legitimacy to climate refugees by changing laws to reflect this source of migration as valid and deserving of assistance. There are two Australian attorneys, David Hodgkinson and Tess Burton, who have articulated the problem and recommended steps be taken to recognize, validate, and care for these refugees.
In part by quoting Etienne Piguet, a climate change activist and Professor of Human Geography at the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland, these attorneys assign responsibility for the refugees directly by saying “These principles encapsulate our sense that an urgent issue is as follows ‘if environmental deteriorations due to human influence on the climate generate forced migration flows, the question of the rights of victims to a form of protection will become unavoidable.’ Our solution is to base the convention of the normative claim that high-emitting nations should take responsibility for the lives affected by the over-use of the climate commons.” In other words, those countries responsible for emissions which cause global climate change should be held responsible to bear the expense and effort required to deal with climate refugees.
Studies of past migrations have shown that rural populations invariably migrate to nearby major cities as their first option on the assumption there will be services to take care of them. This will probably not represent the best alternative in climate change affected regions. This is because the nearest city will, in all likelihood, be under the same climate change conditions as the surrounding territory.
We know of the failure of isolated camps like Dadaab. They will not provide for the needs of this migrating population. Assuming the countries contributing most to climate change will own up to their responsibilities, we must begin the planning for this migration. It has been suggested each country begin to study its options. Each country should, and probably will, look at their own territory to determine if they will experience climate change population migration.
In the history of the U.S. the most recent and possibly largest example of a managed rapid migration of people occurred as a result of hurricane Katrina in 2005. Over a million people were relocated around the country. As is true in all migrations, the highest numbers of people migrated to nearby large population areas with, as an example, Texas receiving 200,000 people, Arkansas 50,000 and Alabama 24,000. More distant relocations included 6,000 to Chicago, 807 families to California, over 2,000 people to Ohio, 200 to Massachusetts, and 100 to Rhode Island.
The point of this example is that large migrations can be managed in very short periods of time when many more locations participate in receiving the refugees. At 150 million people, the climate refugees will represent a significantly larger number of people. On the plus side however, is that we have decades to manage this number. In addition, if the developed nations step up to assist refugees we will have the entire world in which to resettle these people.
We have two options; we can delay this effort until the world’s climate refugees number many millions and we are forced to take emergency action, like in Katrina and Dadaab. Conversely, we can urge our governments, universities, and non profits around the world to start their studies now and implement relocation plans early, when our and their actions can keep pace with the growing numbers of migrating people.
Use the following links to obtain more information on climate change migration, Dadaab and official recognition for climate refugees. In addition, a variety of links are provided for your donation to organizations fighting for resources for the half million people in Dadaab.
http://www.msf.org/msf/donations/donations_home.cfm (Doctors Without Borders)
http://www.nrc.no/?aid-9179192 (Norwegian Refugee Council)
http://www.drc.dk/about-drc/relief-work/ (Danish Refugee Council)
http://donate.unhcr.org/ (U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees)
Planning for Migration:
UN Research Paper No. 153 – http://www.unhcr.org/47a316182.html