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LATIN AMERICA / THE CARIBBEAN
Displaced by climate change
Latinamerica Press
5/25/2015
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Millions of people will be forced to migrate due to climate change and natural disasters.

“Environmental disasters, exacerbated by climate change, bring disastrous consequences. In some cases, the people affected lose everything: houses, belongings needed for survival, food, material goods and invaluable memories. When this happens, usually the victims find themselves alone without protection. The only way to protect the continuity of their lives is a change in direction and place, becoming environmental migrants,” states a recent report published by ConexiónCOP, a news bulletin reporting on conferences about climate change.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in 2013, 30 million people in the world were displaced by climate change and natural disasters. Looking ahead to 2050, UNHCR projects that the number of people displaced by climate change and environmental degradation could reach 1 billion.

“Until now the image of climate change is that of a pair of polar bears on top of an iceberg adrift. We forget that that the most affected are the millions of people that see themselves forced to abandon their homes because of disasters, many of which are caused by climate change,” pointed out José Riera, special advisor to the UNHCR.

The Caribbean is one of the zones most affected by climate change. Persistent droughts, increasing frequency of hurricanes, extreme weather phenomenon, rising sea level, coastal erosion and acidification of the ocean are some of the effects of climate change that the Caribbean islands are confronting already and that threaten their survival.

Carlos González, specialist at the Center for Tropical Agriculture Research (CIAT), states that “the increase in sea level will forever destroy wide zones and production at low altitude, near the coast, inhabited by millions of people who will have to leave permanently to live in another place.”

Language barriers, nationality or migratory situation, as well as the lack of support networks, are the principal problems confronting displaced people, but food security and the economy will be especially affected.º

Food insecurity
“The displacement due to environmental causes affects food security, specifically due to the restriction of food production, not only because of environmental stress, but also because of the decrease in the supply and production of food,” contends González. “It deepens the vulnerability of the food supply, a fundamental factor for the wellbeing of peoples.”

In economic terms, the price of food will rise due to the decrease in supply, affecting the purchasing power of people, especially those with less income, which will unleash inflation and increase poverty.

The middle of last year, a drought devastated the crops in Central America, dramatically raising the food prices. The World Food Program (WFP) warned that more than 2.8 million people in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras had problems feeding themselves.

“This is a humanitarian crisis in the making, people are already suffering hunger. Their normal situation is critical and if they lose their harvest, this will become extremely serious,” stated the WFP.

Between February and March of this year, extreme climate phenomena were reported in Chile and Peru. Heavy rains caused the death of people and the destruction of dwellings in northern Chile and the central mountains of Peru.

According to Eduardo Durand, director of Climate Change in the Ministry of the Environment of Peru, “the intensification of the rains and the increase in temperature are two consequences of climate change. Events that were once considered extreme and that developed in specific seasons are more common due to climate change.”

The Latin American and Caribbean region is already experiencing its own phenomena of global warming and disasters will become more frequent due to extreme climate events. In addition is the arrival of an El Niño event this year. El Niño is a weather phenomenon that periodically develops and is characterized by the warming of the surface waters of the Pacific Ocean, causing torrential rains in South America and drought in Central America.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirmed on May 14 that “there is an approximately 90 percent chance that El Niño will continue through Northern Hemisphere summer 2015, and a greater than 80 percent chance it will last through 2015.” 
—Latinamerica Press.


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