African Leaders Emphasise Plight of 'Environmental Refugees'

(AFP) October 23, 2009 – KAMPALA – African leaders recognised climate change as a major cause of human displacement during a two-day summit on the plight of the continent’s refugees which closed Friday in Kampala.

Several African nations adopted a document on the rights of the continent’s 17 million internally-displaced persons (IDP), refugees and returnees.

“The important thing about this convention is that it applies to conflict and climate as causes of displacement,” the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told reporters shortly after the signing.

“I am confident about the awareness of how seriously African countries will be affected by climate change,” he said.

In 2008, there were 104 recognised natural disasters in Africa and 99 percent were climate related, John Holmes, United Nations Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, said at the Kampala Summit.

According to Holmes, a recorded 700,000 people on the continent were displaced by climate events in 2008, but he said he suspects the real number is much higher.

“I have been struck by the number of people, ministers of African countries who have told me how their lives are changing, the lives of their people is changing because the climate change,” he said.

He argued the best way to limit the number of people displaced by climate events is to plan before the disaster occurs, by improving water management systems and emphasising the importance of drought resistant crops.

“What we fear is, what

the scientists predict, is that this is simply going to get worse,” he added.

“There is a problem here that we need to deal with because the problems that occur to people who are displaced by conflict also occur when people are displaced by natural disasters. They have the same problem of homelessness.”

Tarsis Kabwegyere, Ugandan minister for Refugees and Disaster Preparedness, told AFP that people displaced by climate events were previously given less consideration.

“In Uganda it is already a serious matter. We are having very strange winds, landslides in areas where we didn’t have them in my own lifetime. And now we are more concerned with dealing with that aspect of displacement,” he said.

Source: AFP


  • Anne

    Hello and thank you for this article. So-called environmentally induced migration is multi-level problem. According to Essam El-Hinnawi definition form 1985 environmental refugees as those people who have been forced to leave their traditional habitat, temporarily or permanently, because of a marked environmental disruption (natural or triggered by people) that jeopardised their existence and/or seriously affected the quality of their life. The fundamental distinction between `environmental migrants` and `environmental refugees` is a standpoint of contemporsry studies in EDPs.

    According to Bogumil Terminski it seems reasonable to distinguish the general category of environmental migrants from the more specific (subordinate to it) category of environmental refugees.

    Environmental migrants, therefore, are persons making a short-lived, cyclical, or longerterm change of residence, of a voluntary or forced character, due to specific environmental factors. Environmental refugees form a specific type of environmental migrant.

    Environmental refugees, therefore, are persons compelled to spontaneous, short-lived, cyclical, or longer-term changes of residence due to sudden or gradually worsening changes in environmental factors important to their living, which may be of either a short-term or an irreversible character.

    According to Norman Myers environmental refugees are “people who can no longer gain a secure livelihood in their homelands because of drought, soil erosion, desertification, deforestation and other environmental problems, together with associated problems of population pressures and profound poverty”.

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