New class of refugees

More peo­ple are now be­ing dis­placed by en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ters than war.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FOCUS - – By Chin Mui Yoon

ON Aug 30, 2005, Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina tore across New Or­leans in Louisiana, leav­ing a swathe of de­struc­tion in its wake with tor­ren­tial rains and un­prece­dented flood­ing. Thou­sands of peo­ple were ren­dered home­less while 1,600 lives were lost.

As ter­ri­fy­ing as Ka­t­rina was five years ago, war, the wrath of na­ture and poverty per­sist, in­creas­ingly up­root­ing hu­mans from their habi­tats around the world. Eco­nomic woes also plague city dwellers, forc­ing many to sell their homes.

As more than half of the world pop­u­la­tion lives in cities, slums re­main an in­deli­ble part of the lo­cal land­scape. In the world’s most crowded coun­try, China, some 28% of its 65.3 mil­lion ur­ban dwellers live in slums, al­though it is an im­prove­ment from 37.3% in 2000.

While there are fewer wars be­tween coun­tries, in­ter­nal strife and dis­putes have in­creased. The United Na­tions es­ti­mates that there are 11 mil­lion to 12 mil­lion dis­placed per­sons around the world to­day. And as many as “50 mil­lion peo­ple es­cap­ing the ef­fects of creep­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal de­te­ri­o­ra­tion” will ur­gently re­quire the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to sup­port this new cat­e­gory of “refugee”, says the UN.

The UN Uni­ver­sity’s In­sti­tute for En­vi­ron­ment and Hu­man Se­cu­rity in Bonn, Ger­many, says prob­lems such as the rise in sea level, ex­pand­ing deserts and cat­a­strophic weather-in­duced flood­ing have con­trib­uted to largescale mi­gra­tions and could even­tu­ally dis­place hun­dreds of mil­lions.

It adds that the num­ber of peo­ple forced to move by en­vi­ron­men­tre­lated con­di­tions ap­prox­i­mates and may some day dwarf the num­ber of of­fi­cially-recog­nised “per­sons of con­cern,” re­cently cal­cu­lated at 19.2 mil­lion. In­deed, Red Cross re­search shows more peo­ple are now dis­placed by en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ters than war.

Will tem­po­rary shel­ter like tents and makeshift dwellings of plas­tic and alu­minum sheets be­come the hu­man habi­tat of the fu­ture?

An earth­quake sur­vivor bring­ing sup­plies to her tent at Port-au-Prince in Haiti. More than one mil­lion peo­ple were left home­less by a cat­a­strophic earth­quake in Jan­uary.

A child at a re­lief camp set up for flash flood vic­tims of Leh in the Hi­malayan re­gion of Ladakh. The wrath of na­ture con­tin­ues to up­root ru­ral and also ur­ban dwellers around the world.

A camp for flood vic­tims in Sukkur, in south­ern Pak­istan. Ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions, al­most 17.2 mil­lion peo­ple have been sig­nif­i­cantly af­fected by the floods and about 1.2 mil­lion homes have been de­stroyed or badly dam­aged.

A makeshift squat­ter camp in Baghdad. The United Na­tions refugee agency, UNHCR, says the Iraq war pro­duced the worst hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis in the Mid­dle East since 1948.

Tents made with tar­pau­lins and plas­tic sheets serve as homes to thou­sands of peo­ple in the sprawl­ing slum on the edge of the Philip­pines’ Manila Bay. Is this the hu­man habi­tat of the fu­ture in the wake of gnaw­ing poverty?

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