When a hurricane or earthquake strikes, government and humanitarian aid usually follows. But when a natural disaster unfolds slowly, in the form of a drought or through sea-level rise, there aren’t always clear-cut protocols for help.
In these cases, the victims are often overlooked.
By 2050, 143 million people could be displaced from their homes because of gradual climate disasters, according to a new report by the World Bank.
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As that happens, governments will have no choice but to change how they respond to these kinds of crises, or else risk being overwhelmed by huge movements of people, the report argues.
"We have a small window now, before the effects of climate change deepen, to prepare the ground for this new reality,” Kristalina Georgieva, the World Bank chief executive officer, said in a statement.
Peia Kararaua, 16, swims in the flooded area of Aberao village in Kiribati, one of the countries most affected by sea level rise. During high tides many villages become inundated making large parts of them uninhabitable.
“Steps cities take to cope with the upward trend of arrivals from rural areas and to improve opportunities for education, training and jobs will pay long-term dividends,” she added. “It’s also important to help people make good decisions about whether to stay where they are or move to new locations where they are less vulnerable."
The bulk of affected people will be in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America, according to the report, and they’ll be going from rural areas to urban areas.
Throughout these regions, decreasing crop productivity from changing rain patterns, drought, and rising sea levels will be the primary drivers of migration.
In Ethiopia, for example, historic droughts are already forcing people to leave their land in rural areas to look for opportunity in cities.
Similarly, rising sea levels are destroying coastal communities and farmlands in Bangladesh and forcing people to look for work in cities as well.
In some regions, however, cities are being the hardest hit by the effects of climate change.
In Mexico City, for instance, changing rain patterns combined with bad city planning are depriving citizens of a steady supply of water.
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Ethiopia has been experiencing historic droughts, which has led to water scarcity and food insecurity for millions.
The report says that the most effective way to minimize climate change displacement is for countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and work toward the goals set forth in the Paris climate agreement.
If global temperatures can be held under 2 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels, then some of the most dramatic consequences of climate change could be averted.
Further, the report says that resiliency and adaptation measures have to be taken.
For example, in Oaxaca, Mexico, sustainable forestry programs curbed deforestation and promoted the local economy, creating long-term jobs that prevent people from migrating , according to the World Bank.
In parts of Fiji, meanwhile, sustainable tourism initiatives are inviting foreign investment while restoring ecosystems.
“While internal climate migration is a growing reality in many countries, it doesn’t have to be a crisis,” the report argues. “With improved policies, countries have the chance to reduce the number of people forced to move due to climate change by as much as 80 percent by 2050."