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UNHCR – Climate change is an emergency for everyone, everywhere
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UNHCR – Climate change is an emergency for everyone, everywhere

Mauritania. Lake's dwindling waters threaten farming and fishing communities


Mauritania. Lake's dwindling waters threaten farming and fishing communities

A Fulani herdsman leads his cattle to Lake Mahmouda’s receding waters, Mauritania.   © UNHCR/Colin Delfosse

Much of the conversation in the lead-up to COP26 has been about predictions and future pledges for more decisive actions: carbon neutral by 2030, net Zero by 2050.

Climate change is a daily reality for millions of people all over the globe.

Ninety percent of refugees under UNHCR’s mandate, and 70 percent of people displaced within their home countries by conflict and violence, come from countries on the front lines of the climate emergency.

They are susceptible to extreme weather, such as flooding or cyclones, and also to losing their livelihoods due to drought or desertification.

Climate change is increasing poverty, instability, and human movement from Burkina Faso and Bangladesh to Mozambique. It is fuelling tensions over diminishing resources and creating competition.

People who have fled once before are forced to flee again by violent outbreaks or extreme weather. Even if peace does return, displaced people can’t go home if their home areas are damaged by flooding, droughts, or rising sea levels.

We are witnessing a catastrophic convergence of conflict and climate that is driving displacement and making it even more difficult for those already forced from their homes.

Conflicts that have lasted decades and devastated generations are some of the most vulnerable countries in the world.

In Afghanistan – one of the most fragile countries in the world suffering from four decades of conflict – the compounding impacts of climate change are having profound consequences for those least able to cope. For more than 40 years, UNHCR has worked in Afghanistan. I was there for many years. The protracted conflict has had an irrevocable effect – forcing people to leave the country but also causing internal displacement.

Many Afghans struggled to feed their families during a prolonged drought, even before recent economic developments brought the economy back under control. Any further deterioration in the humanitarian situation will almost certainly lead to more displacement in a country that has already seen 665,000 people flee their homes this year.

This may seem like a distant problem in faraway lands to many readers from wealthier countries. But the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned in August that irreversible changes in the Earth’s climate are being observed in every region. In Europe, more than 200 people died from catastrophic flooding this year, while heatwaves in Canada claimed the lives of hundreds. Wildfires raged in Siberia, the Mediterranean, and along the west coasts of the United States, Canada, and the United States.

The world is finally acknowledging that climate change is a serious emergency. However, the stark reality is that those who contributed the least are already the ones suffering the most.

What does this mean for Mozambique, a country that is one of the most advanced and prosperous nations in the world? One of the least developed countries in the world, it is grappling with violent attacks that have displaced more than 730,000 people while struggling to recover from a series of cyclones, including Cyclone Idai in March 2019 – one of the worst storms ever recorded in the southern hemisphere.

The worse the consequences of climate change will be if we delay global action and support for countries like Mozambique so they can mitigate its effects,

Estimates predict that without ambitious climate action, the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance due to disasters could increase to 200 million annually by 2050 – twice the current number.

What can we do?

UNHCR has over 130 countries of operations and 70 years experience in protecting the displaced. This expertise and knowledge is used to assist countries that have limited resources and means to better respond to disaster-related displacement. We are helping people who are already displaced to adapt to climate change.

UNHCR and other partners have been helping Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to reduce the risk from flooding and landslides during monsoon season. planting fast-growing treesStabilize hillsides, provide alternative energy sources for cooking and train refugee volunteers to be first responders.

We are ready to increase our response, but need your help. Some solutions will require financial resources, while others will be more technical. The majority of the solutions will come from communities that are at the forefront of the climate crisis. Their voices should be heard at the COP and beyond. They have the ability to apply ancestral solutions based on their generational knowledge of land.

The human cost of climate change is now. If collective efforts to reduce global warming and drastically reduce emissions fail, UNHCR could be operating in a world that is not yet recognizable.

Younger generations are standing up for their human rights. We are now beyond pledges – we need action and accountability.

This piece was first published by Al Jazeera5 November 2021


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