By Suzanne York of Berkeley's Institute for Population Studies at HowMany.org.
A study just released by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is warning that climate change could exacerbate environmental disasters in Asia and result in a surge of migration by people fleeing crises.
In its report, Addressing Climate Change and Migration in Asia and the Pacific, the ADB observed that more than 42 million people in the region (more than twice the population of Sri Lanka) were displaced by extreme weather events in the past two years. Some were unable to return home or deliberately chose to relocate. Globally, Asia and the Pacific is the region most prone to natural disasters.
Six of the ten countries most vulnerable to climate change are in Asia and the Pacific. Bangladesh tops the list, followed by India, Nepal, the Philippines, Afghanistan and Myanmar.
The combined population of these countries is approximately 1.6 billion people:
Bangladesh – 151 million
India – 1.2 billion
Nepal – 30.5 million
Philippines – 96 million
Afghanistan – 32 million
Myanmar – 54 million
The entire Asia-Pacific region is home to 4 billion people, or 60% of the world’s population, and many live along the coasts and will be very vulnerable to rising sea levels. A majority of them are poor; almost 1.8 billion people live on less than $2 per day.
One of the main factors why Asia and the Pacific is so affected by environmental disasters is the large population, many of whom live in high risk and high population density areas, and as stated above, suffer from steep rates of inequality. Climate change is expected to only worsen current environmental problems and poses many economic, social, and political challenges.
This is obviously a huge issue, but one tactic that could be implemented fairly quickly and easily is family planning and it’s adjunct, support for women’s empowerment. There is an unmet need for reproductive health around the world, and responding to that demand can have the effect of slowing population growth and reducing migration pressure. Fertility rates may be declining, but with nearly half of the world’s population under the age of 25, the choices that families make and tools they have access to will be a big factor in this equation.
Furthermore, women and men who have their basic needs met are better able to cope with the impacts of environmental degradation and natural disasters.
Population Action International, in its policy brief on climate change, migration, and population, makes the following recommendations for dealing with these inter-related issues:
- industrialized countries should make significant investments in international climate adaptation efforts in an attempt to meet the needs of people most at-risk from climate change;
- climate change adaptation efforts should be combined with development goals focused on reducing pressures to migrate, including meeting needs for family planning and reproductive health (this includes supporting family planning services through integrated population, health, and environment initiatives which can strengthen adaptation capacity);
- climate policymakers and others should assess how demographic factors may affect climate-induced migration and devise responses that can best address unplanned, large-scale migration.
The ADB concluded that if “properly managed and supported, migration – both internal and cross-border – can often improve livelihoods, reduce poverty, meet labor force needs, bolster economies, and strengthen links between communities and countries.” Addressing the impacts of population growth, rapid urbanization, and environmental degradation, as well as ways to empower women, are part and parcel of this effort.
Suzanne York is a senior writer with the Institute for Population Studies/HowMany.org.