Gobar Times
Open Forum

Future Shock

     The age of ECO-REFUGEES?   

One estimate says that as many as 150 million people may be displaced by the impacts of global warming and consequent sea-level rise by 2050. That’s 1.5% of of that year’s predicted global population of 10 billion.

  Can India absorb millions of Bangaladeshis that stream across the border   

Some predict that in the near future, environmental refugees may outnumber traditional refugees many times over.Global warming and sea-level rise could wipe out large coastal areas and many small islands altogether.

This raises the horrors of a “wholesale relocation of populations” which in turn will raise fundamental questions about citizenhood and nationality. Once land has been lost, will a residual nationality be able to continue, or will we have to create a new category of "world citizens"if many lands are lost permanently?

The concept of the world citizen would also acknowledge the fact that climate change is a collective problem and requires a collective solution. Again, in the event of full-scale national evacuation, what happens to an abandoned country's exclusive economic zone, its territorial waters and nationhood?

Few things could be more sensitive than carving out new territory to create space for a nation.

Also, in such a scenario, what about the “waves of environmental refugees that spill across borders with destabilizing effects” on domestic order and international relations?

Population movement can have significant negative impacts on the natural environment. Refugee crises in Burundi, Rwanda and Somalia have highlighted the devastating impact largescale population displacement can have on the environment and resources in neighboring countries of refuge.


According to a 1998 report by the IPCC, Regional Impacts of Climate Change:

  • a one-metre rise in sea level would inundate three million hectares in Bangladesh, displacing between 15 to 20 million people.
  • Vietnam could lose 500,000 hectares of land in the Red River Delta and another 2 million hectares in the Mekong Delta, displacing roughly 10 million people.
  • a one-metre rise would swamp about 85 per cent of the Maldives' main island, which contains the capital Male. It could turn most of the Maldives into sandbars, forcing 300,000 people to flee to India or Sri Lanka. "We would have no choice," said President Gayoom as long ago as 1989, "for the Maldives would cease to exist as a nation."
  • West Africa is at high risk. Up to 70 per cent of the Nigerian coast would be inundated by a one-metre rise, affecting more than 2.7 million hectares and pushing some beaches three kilometres inland. Gambia's capital, Banjul, would be entirely submerged.
  • South American cities would suffer some of the worst economic effects. A one-metre rise in sea level would displace 600,000 people in Guyana—80% of the population and cost US$ 4 billion, or 1,000 per cent of its tiny GNP.

    The Impact of Dying cities   

Another issue is that of cities no longer prove sustainable. For example, Quetta In pakistan was originally designed for just 50,000 people. Today, it has 1 million plus inhabitants. All of whom depend on 2,000 wells pumping water deep from underground, depleting what is believed to be a fossil or nonreplenishable aquifer. Experts say that Quetta may have enough water for say a decade. After that, in the words of a water assessment study, Quetta will be "a dead city."

With most of the nearly 3 billion people to be added to the world's population by 2050 living in countries where water tables are already falling and where population growth swells the ranks of those sinking into hydrological poverty, water refugees are likely to become commonplace.

They will be most common in arid regions where populations are outgrowing water supply. Even Indian villages have been abandoned because overpumping had depleted the local aquifers and villagers could no longer reach water. Millions in China and in parts of Mexico may have to move because of a lack of water.

    Relocating Squatter Cities    

When a city is dying, the first to be hit could be the squatter cities. In Bangkok, rising sea levels would cost an additional $ 20 million per year in pumping costs alone. Costs for relocating displaced squatter communities would be astronomical. In Shanghai, up to a third of the city's 17 million inhabitants would be flooded, displacing up to 6 million people. Singapore, one city with a comprehensive planning culture, has nothing in its latest 50-year master plan to deal with a one-metre sea-level rise.

    The Spreading of deserts   

Spreading deserts are also displacing people. In China, where the Gobi Desert is growing by 10,400 square kilometers a year, the refugee stream is swelling. An Asian Development Bank assessment in Gansu province identified 4,000 villages that face abandonment.

As the desert takes over, farmers and herdsmen are forced to move, squeezed into the shrinking area of habitable land or forced into cities.

The refugee flows from falling water tables and expanding deserts are just beginning.

All these factors taken together do not augur well and the environmental refugees of tomorrow could be both from villages and cities.


    Asia takes the brunt of disasters   

World Disaster Report

The report divides disasters into natural and non-natural disasters. Natural disasters include hydro-meteorological disasters avalanches/landslides; droughts/famines; extreme temperatures; floods; forest/scrub fires; windstorms; and other (insect infestation and waves/surges)) and geophysical disasters (earthquakes; volcanic eruptions).

Non-natural disasters can be industrial (chemical spill, collapse of industrial structures, explosion, fire, gas leak, poisoning, radiation), miscellaneous (collapse of domestic/non-industrial structures, explosion, fire) or transport (air, rail, road and water-borne accidents).

    Cheap Lives. Expensive Lives   

While countries with Low Human Development Index record the highest deaths per disaster (1052), disasters in countries with High Human Development Index record the highest cost per disaster. This also has to do with insurance companies, who push the values of damages higher in High HDI countries.

(Changes in Capitalism and Global Shifts in the Distribution of Hazard & Vulnerability)




    Fragile Existence   

People living on fragile lands are vulnerable but have a modest portfolio of assets that can help bring them out of poverty: the land (albeit with constraints), traditional social capital, human capital, and indigenous knowledge and know-how.

However, the potential productivity of even these assets has not been fully developed by either local or national institutions. Living in dispersed settlements and working in the informal or subsistence economy, people on the rural periphery are largely invisible to decision-makers.

  One-quarter of the people in developing countries- 1.3 billion in all-survive on fragile lands, areas that present significant constraints for intensive agriculture and where the people's links to the land are critical for the sustainability of communities, pastures, forests and other natural resources.

Half a billion people in developing countries live in arid regions with no access to irrigation systems. Another 400 million are on land with soils unsuitable for agriculture, 200 million in slope-dominated regions, and more than 130 million in fragile forest ecosystems.

These areas (table 4.1), covering an estimated 73 percent of the Earth's land surface, face significant problems for agriculture investment and have limited ability to sustain growing populations.

(Improving Livelihoods on Fragile Lands)





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Future Shock