Climate Change and Palestinian Refugees

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Lebanon faces great changes if average temperatures rise 2-4 degrees Celsius over the next 100 years, as most climate change models forecast.

Wael Hmaidan, executive director of IndyACT, The League of Independent Activists says climate change in the Middle East will affect Lebanon first. “The distribution of rain has changed; the snow density is decreasing and forest fires are spreading,” he said.

With less melt water from snow, the dry season is set to begin a month earlier. While disrupting some farming, particularly in the south and east where agriculture is the mainstay of the economy, environmentalists warn it will be urban areas which face the most serious water shortages over the next five years.

Two man-made factors add to Lebanon’s water shortage problems. Half of rainfall is currently lost through run-off, evaporation or ground seepage every year, while much of the plumbing and irrigation systems are still in disarray from the civil war and the 2006 July War.

So, what does this mean for the 400,000 Palestinian refugees that live in the country? (Of Lebanon’s roughly four million people, including around 400,000 Palestinian refugees, over 80 percent live in urban areas, with 1.5 million living in Beirut.) They will be migrants not only due to statelessness and conflict, but also climate change. Where will they go? It appears that no one has an answer.

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