New class of refugees
More people are now being displaced by environmental disasters than war.
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?