MIND 26th April 2017

THE CLIMATE CHANGE REFUGEE CRISIS

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A new era in the war against global warming.

There’s no denying climate change is real. In 2004, the Indian ocean was struck by a devastating tsunami; death toll: 230,000. In 2010, Haiti was rocked by an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale; estimated number of deaths: 310,000.

Though we are moved by these tragedies and watch on in despair, the fact remains, we are part of the problem.

Your phone and TV require electricity, electricity requires coal. In most industrialized nations, coal and other fossil fuels are burned to produce energy, releasing large quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In the United States, the burning of fossil fuels is the largest source of carbon emissions, producing about two billion tons of CO2 every year. With such high levels of carbon dioxide fused into the earth’s atmosphere, weather patterns become erratic.

In the end, however, we rarely pay the price. The lives lost in Indonesia, Thailand and Haiti testify to that.

Yet, not all victims make the headlines. Millions around the world are suffering at the hands of climate change. One such group is the men, women, and children of Niger, West Africa.

Niger is a landlocked country, one of several nations forming the Sahel: a region extending from East to West Africa. It forms a transitional zone between the Sahara desert of the North and the tropical regions in the South.

The Sahel region starts from Senegal in the East, to Sudan in the West.

The Sahel region starts from Senegal in the East, to Sudan in the West. Credit: http://theconversation.com/sahel-region-africa-72569

The effects of climate change on Niger are nothing short of dramatic. What was once a green land, is now three-quarters sand. Only small pockets of fertile land exist, in a country where farming was once a way of life. Years of drought have rendered the land obsolete, bringing with it a food crisis and conflict.

Niger from 1976 (left) to 2007 (right). Photo: NASA

Niger from 1976 (left) to 2007 (right). Photo: NASA

What has this meant for the people of Niger? Young men attempt to flee to Europe: a world where food and water come in abundance. For most, however, the trek ends in bordering Libya, where they are imprisoned, tortured, or beaten to death. For those who do make it (UN data suggests only 3.3% of African refugees reach Europe), the grass is not necessarily greener.

Under the 1951 Geneva Convention, a refugee is someone who flees conflict or persecution. It does not include those who are forced to flee their country, destroyed by an enemy known as global warming. The men who flee, do so illegally.

Back home, women, children and the elderly are forced to pack up and head south to neighboring Nigeria: a country which now has more refugees than Europe.

Nigeria now hosts more refugees than all of Europe

Nigeria now hosts more refugees than all of Europe. Photo credit: Stefan Heunis/AFP/Getty

Unbeknown to most of the world, the small town of Monguno in northeast Nigeria, with a population of only 60,000 is now a shelter for 140,000 refugees from all over Africa, fleeing the likes of Boko Haram and now, climate change. Camps have been set up, for internally displaced people (IDP) like those from Niger.

Sadly, Monguno is one of many towns across Africa, where a displacement crisis dwarfs anything Europe has ever handled.

The scale of the refugee crisis is unprecedented. Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist Tom Friedman describes it as one of the most important stories of his journalistic career.

In closing, I encourage you to watch the following link, uploaded by the World Bank exactly ten years ago. Rakia is a thirty-five-year-old woman – her family starve for days on end. It’s a bleak reminder that, ten years on, we are no closer to solving this humanitarian crisis. If anything, our modern lifestyles are making it worse.

As always, pushing for health …. for the planet, and everyone on it.

 

Feature image credit: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images