Climigration is a new term coined because of climate change. A study defined this term as, “a specific type of permanent population displacement that occurs when community relocation is required to protect residents from climate-induced biophysical changes that alter ecosystems, damage or destroy public infrastructure and repeatedly endanger human lives” (Planning for Climigration, 2018).
The Planning for Climigration (2018) article explains further:
- a planned movement or retreat from untenable locations and situation or permanently relocating entire communities or large sections of them.
- Forced migration in response to threats to lives and livelihoods related to climate change impacts.
- Assisted migration because it is planned and structured with assistance from government and other agencies.
Once it occurs, it is very unlikely that the original community will return to its prior location, and only occurs with climate change as the driving force (Planning for Climigration, 2018).
Three cases of climigration
The study reviewed previous cases of migration due to natural, environmental, and highly harmful and life-threatening situations.
The first one is a relocation after the earthquakes in Turkey, Iran, Guatemala, and Peru. Looking closely at this incident the study finds that:
Relocations are more complex than initially recognized by disaster management agencies, it’s the last chance and undesirable adaptation approach, it will likely fail if people being relocated resist external decisions made without their consent, the report says.
Another incident of planned relocation happened in Picher, Oklahoma due to severe toxic contamination of their groundwater. The decision to relocate divided the community.
A pro-relocation group proposed a federal buyout citing serious environmental and health problems as reasons for relocation, while the second group against it, argue that the reasons were overstated and focused on the loss of cultural connection to the town.
The third incident happened in 3 communities in Alaska when viability to live in their location was threatened by extreme weather events and climate-induced coastal erosion.
The lack of overarching institutional frameworks caused problems like legal issues around land acquisition, funding for new infrastructures, and choosing suitable and cultural sites to move to, the report adds.
Challenges of climigration
The above review of cases of migration due to natural, environmental, and other disasters mentions the challenges of climigration as a future resort due to climate change:
- There is a need for an institutional framework as a basis for relocating communities and even a whole country for that matter.
- It needs to be coherent and flexible;
- provides guidance for effective coordination of community relocations;
- capable of fast-tracking developments like demolition, temporary housing, transportation, and access to services to affected communities.
The news “Climigration: when communities must move because of climate change” states that because of increasing threats of climate change, “climigration is no longer a concern for the future; it is a challenge today.” The notion of relocating an entire community is no longer an imagination but a reality, it adds.
The news article cited that United States through the US Department of Housing and Urban Development has earmarked US$ 1 billion to help communities adapt to climate change, $48 million is allocated for the relocation of the entire community in Isle de Jean Charles struggling with climate change impacts.
It explains that planning successfully for a climigration involves a strategic land-use planning system, disaster management, social psychology, and engineering. Strategic planning should begin as early as possible with the use of risk mapping starting with the most vulnerable communities, the article narrates.
Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2019 shows the Asia-Pacific region is the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as rising sea-level, desertification and drought, water scarcity, and changing precipitation patterns. Those most affected are living in poverty, delta regions, low-lying, and coastal regions.
In Vietnam, displacements are occurring every day as people living the Mekong Delta are forced to leave their homes due sea-level rise that encroach at their homes (BBC news, 2019).
The same is happening to people in Bangladesh living in the Ganges Delta, according to a report. They have been living with dangerous floods and tropical storms for decades, but with climate change, things are turning for the worse, the report added.
Disruption of rain patterns, droughts, increase of flooding and riverbank erosion are making damages a permanent thing. Because of these events, 700,000 Bangladeshis are displaced each year and flocking to urban slums in Dhaka. The city that is already burdened with poverty, congestion, lack of secure infrastructures, and health hazards are forced to accommodate massive migration by the day. (National Geographic, 2019).
Another example is people in living in Oceania, particularly low-lying island and developing states such as Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Samoa, and Palao. A report says that because of a lack of protective barriers they are on the front lines of climate change (Stuff, 2019).
If resettlement is required for these highly vulnerable states, a study revealed that Australia and New Zealand are the two most preferred countries for relocation. Because of the likelihood for climigration, the study recommends that low-lying and vulnerable counties should adopt a relocation or climigration policy as part of its resilience building.
Basing on the current events showing the impacts climate change, climigration is, in fact, a reality that resource and infrastructure-rich countries should begin to prepare for. For countries like New Zealand and Australia identified as the preferred host countries for climigrants in the pacific region, the question remains, are these countries able and willing to accommodate climigrants in case such a phenomenon happens in the not-so-distant future?