Unchecked climate change = 125 million refugees in South Asia

Feature story - 28 March, 2008
'Hope for the best, plan for the worst', is the mantra of emergency planners everywhere. But, for 125 million people living in the low lying areas of South Asia, when it comes to climate change there is no plan that will adequately address the worst consequences.

Village leader of seven villages in the Orrisa, five of which have been washed away by the rising sea.

Blue Alert, Climate Migrants in South Asia, a new Greenpeace report warns that left unchecked climate change could lead to global temperature increases of between 4-5°C, unleashing a barrage of impacts that will drive mass migration in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

It is not as simple as rising sea levels flooding coastal areas, although that alone would be devastating. The report warns that impacts will include: "inundation itself, flood and storm damage, erosion, saltwater intrusion, rising water tables and impeded drainage and wetland loss. These will together reduce the ability of these regions to provide their inhabitants access to land itself, in some cases, and to many others their means of cultivation, water resources and fodder, causing severe hardship in terms of livelihood and habitat loss."

In a region already home to the largest number of people living in poverty, such impacts will take a horrendous human toll. The reports author, Dr. Chella Rajan, Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences at IIT Madras, concludes that "India should seek policy options that are proactive in terms of developing international strategies to reduce the risk of destructive climate change. We cannot wait for the inevitable to happen and hope to adapt to it."

Greenpeace, simultaneously launched the 'Blue Alert' campaign in five of the most vulnerable coastal cities in India: Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, Kochi and Goa. The campaign aims to catalyse people in the coastal danger zones, empowering them with information that they can raise with their elected representatives.

"The Indian government has wrongly forsaken mitigation for adaptation and the forthcoming session of Parliament must debate this wisdom which has serious long term consequences," said Divya Raghunandan, Greenpeace India Campaign Director. "We have an opportunity to be world leaders in developing clean technologies. We have the human capital to do this and our government must create the necessary environment for it. There is an added opportunity in laying claim to access mitigation related clean technologies from the developed world. This is where the focus should be when the government announces its National Climate Action Plan in June", she said.

Decisive action needed

Globally more than 1 billion people live in low-lying areas that could be affected by sea level rise. Much of the productive land used to produce food is also in coastal areas at risk from rising sea levels.

The solutions to prevent catastrophic climate change impacts and avoid hundreds of millions of people from being displaced already exist. What's needed is a revolution in the way we generate energy and an end to global deforestation.

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