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Environmental problems and migration in Africa

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In a sense, the implications of environmental hazards are affecting all of us, whether or not we are aware of it. The threats monitored in recent years call for far-reaching research on the relationship between environmental change, natural disasters, and forced migration. Sudden disasters, as well as gradual environmental problems become increasingly important security issue. The natural disasters observed in recent years entail serious social consequences. Floods, earthquakes (and the tsunami waves that frequently accompany them), volcanic eruptions, and the effects of hurricanes, cyclones, and tornadoes force several million people each year to relocate. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council about 36 million people had to flee because of natural disasters in 2008, more than 16 million in 2009 and finally about 42 million in 2010.

Over the last decade, we have witnessed at least ten major disasters which had a significant long-term impact on the dynamics of long-lasting displacement. According to the estimates of international organisations, more than 1,7 million people were forced to relocate following the tsunami of December 2004. As a result of the raging Hurricane “Katrina” over the Gulf of Mexico in August 2005, over 300,000 people were displaced, while the disaster caused losses estimated at over 86 billion dollars. More than 1,5 million people have been displaced in the aftermath of destructive 8.8 magnitude earthquake in Chile (February 2010). Last year's earthquake in Haiti has deprived more than 1 million residents of homes (other data suggest as much as 1,8 million). Furthermore, Japan's March 2011 earthquake, with its magnitude over 9 and accompanying tsunami wave with its complicated repercussions, will probably have a significant impact on the dynamics of internal migration for Japanese nationals. According to the United Nations, a total of 590,000 were evacuated or displaced as a result of the quake and tsunami disaster, including more than 100,000 children. Another common cause of internal displacement, although rather underestimated in the literature, is the result of massive flooding, which occurs almost every year in the most populated Asian countries (Pakistan, China, India, Bangladesh and Vietnam). The foregoing examples represent only a small sample of the phenomenon of environmentally-induced displacement. Recalling them, however, helps us to grasp the importance of great natural disasters for significant spontaneous population exoduses. Watching television reports from areas devastated by natural disasters, we often do not realize the many subtle effects the local communities will have to deal with; demographic, social, economic, and health-related consequences of major natural disasters can be visible and palpable years after the imminent threat is gone.

Regional context
The causes of environmentally-induced displacement in Africa include: a) natural disasters and industrial accidents, b) cyclical environmental processes, c) long-term environmental problems, d) irreversible climate change.

a) Natural and Industrial Disasters
- Extreme temperatures
- Floods (Nigeria, Kenya, Benin, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Sudan). Nearly 560.000 people have been internally-displaced by flood in Nigeria in September 2010.

- Earthquakes (Algeria)
- Volcano eruptions (Ethiopia)
- Cyclones
- Land Contamination following the exploitation of natural resources (e.g. environmental degradation in the Niger Delta): Oil-related environmental problems include gas flaring, oil spills, and dredging of canals. Oil tanker disasters may lead to contamination of local ecosystems and force thousands of inhabitants to migrate. Each of the above-mentioned disasters and risks may constitute a decisive factor in forcing people from their homes.

b) Cyclical environmental problems
- Periodic droughts
c) Long-term environmental problems
- Consequences of deforestation. Deforestation is one of the main consequences of the process of industrialization, especially of the extraction of natural resources (such as oil). Wasteful deforestation can lead to an irreversible imbalance in the natural environment (as in the Amazon Jungle), or the growing scale of the desertification of soils. Increasing the scale of deforestation in many countries (for example in China) have enormous environmental consequences, forcing many people to migrate. According to United Nations analysis Nigeria has the world's highest deforestation rate, Brazil loses the largest area of forest annually, and Congo consumes more bushmeat than any other tropical country. Amazon deforestation currently is considered as one of the greatest environmental problems in last years. Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon dropped nearly 46 percent from August 2008 to July 2009.

- Desertification. As Kofi Annan said in 2006, “If we don't take action, current trends suggest that by 2020 an estimated 60 million people could move from desertified areas of sub-Saharan Africa towards North Africa and Europe, and that worldwide, 135 million people could be placed at risk of being uprooted”. According to Allen and Ober (2008) over 67 million people in the Sahel already exist under the effects of desertification. Desertification of soils appears to be one of the fundamental causes of hunger in many regions of the world.

-Droughts. The problem of drought in many regions of the world seems to be particularly associated with the process of desertification. We can define drought as an extended period of months or years when a region notes a deficiency in its water supply. Generally, this occurs when a region receives consistently below average precipitation. The so called Sahelian-drought, that began in 1986 took place in sub-Saharan Africa was responsible for deaths of between 100,000 and 250,000 of the region's inhabitants. The dry period in Sahelian Region was accentuated by two severe droughts in the early 1970s and 1980s. It is estimated that Sahel drought killed some 100,000 people and displaced millions in that time. A direct consequence of the drought-induced famine was also a large scale of internal displacement and at least 0.5 million refugees in the region. A 2011 drought in East Africa was described as “the worst in 60 years”.

- Land Degradation, Inappropriate Agricultral Practices: Human-induced soil degradation is now one of the leading causes of environmentally displacement. Environmental consequences of poor farming are currently visible in the vast majority of developing countries. The most famous example of the demographic consequences of bad agricultural practices was the Dust Bowl. Environmentally induced displacement is a consequence of so-called `Slash-and-burn agricultural technique`, a primitive form of economy practiced in many parts of the world to this day. The major causes of land degradation include: land clearance, agricultural depletion, overdrifting, urban sprawl and land pollution.

d) Irreversible climate change.
- Rising sea levels are likely to become one of the main causes of forced migratory movements in this century. Low coastal zones (with a coast equal to or lower than 10 meters) account for only two percent of the earth's mass, but up to ten percent of the world's population and thirteen percent of its urban population. The 2007 report, Environment and Urbanizations, says that 634 million people live in coastal areas within 30 feet (9 m) of sea level. A rise in sea levels is not limited to small island states (atoll states). Rather, about 60 percent of the world's biggest cities with more than five million people are located in low-lying coastal areas. (Eleven of the world's fifteen largest cities are on coastal plains). Indeed, over 70 percent of the world's population lives on coastal plains. t is estimated that even a rise of just 20 centimetres could create over 750,000 environmentally induced displaced people in Nigeria. This problem may also touch other African countries like Niger, Senegal, the Gambia, or Egypt. Rising ocean levels will eventually pose a problem for the western hemisphere as well (the United States, Argentina, Chile) and even European countries (Great Britain).

International cooperation to protect environmentally displaced people in Africa.

1.The Pact on Security, Stability and Development in the Great Lakes Region (so-called Great Lakes Pact) adopted in December 2006 by 11 states was the first attempt to conceptualize the internal displacement in this particularly affected area. The document mentions four categories of factors shaping the regional scale of internal displacement: (1) political conflicts, (2) humanitarian, (3) social and (4) environmental catastrophes. According to the article 20 (b) State Parties undertake actions to “promote relevant policies to guarantee access to basic social services by the populations affected by conflicts and effects of natural disasters”.

2. The Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (commonly known as the Kampala Convention) was adopted in October 2009. The document has to be ratified by 15 out of 53 African Union countries to enter into force. As the preamble of the AU convention states: “Member States are determined to preventing and putting an end to the phenomenon of internal displacement [...] especially persistent and recurrent conflicts as well as addressing displacement caused by natural disasters, which have a devastating impact on human life, peace, stability, security, and development”. The analyses of environment-degradation-displacement relations, contained in the document are in fact much more detailed and exhaustive. The definitions of IDPs in the Guiding Principles, Great Lakes Pact of 2006 and Kampala Convention of 2009 to large extent converge. As S. Ojeda noticed, by defining the term in the same manner the authors “clearly wanted to include the widest scope of application possible”. According to the document State Parties shall: a) take measures to protect and assist IDPs due to natural or man-made disasters, including climate change, b) be liable to make reparation to IDPs for damage when a State Party refrains from protecting and assisting IDPs in the event of natural disasters, c) adopt measures to prevent and put an end to the phenomenon such as displacement caused by natural and man-made disasters.

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Articles by Bogumil Terminski