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Climate change will cause migration in South Asia to escalate uncontrollably in coming years, warn three major international organisations

New Delhi, December 8, 2016:  Three major international organisations warn of the devastating and increasing impact of climate change on migration as policy makers converge in Bangladesh for the Global Forum on Migration and Development tomorrow.  In an in-depth study ActionAid, Climate Action Network South Asia and Bread for the World (Brot Fuer Die Welt) paint a picture of the escalating strain affecting the region and warn of the need for international government action.

The study "Climate Change Knows No Borders" looks at climate change and its impacts on migration in South Asia, and particularly in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. The South Asia region is particularly vulnerable to climate change events. Droughts, heat waves, cyclones, rising sea levels, heavy rainfall, landslides and floods strike, are often felt by two or more neighbouring countries in the region.

In 2016 people in South Asia are suffering devastation due to extreme weather and people are on the move like never before.  In May 2016, Cyclone Roanu ripped through Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh causing widespread damage and leaving in its wake reconstruction costs estimated at $1.7 billion.  In April 2016 temperatures reached a record-breaking 51 degrees in Rajasthan, India.  And across India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, 2015-16 brought with it extended drought and crop failure, affecting 330 million people in India alone and many more across the region.

While the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) anticipates climate change impacts will be felt even more severely in future years, political disputes and cross-border fighting often characterise the reaction to migration across the region more than active solutions and problem-solving.      

Bratindi Jena, ActionAid India’s Head of Natural Resources, said:

“Unprecedented drought and other climatic events in India have forced millions of people from their homes and traditional occupations, with women being the hardest hit.  Unless the government helps people prepare for impacts and implements social protection schemes effectively to tackle agrarian distress and forced migration, climate change will undo the benefits of growth in India.”

The need for South Asian governments to monitor the specific impact of climate migration on women and girls is highlighted as a key concern for the region to address. The report outlines the growing and alarming trend of women and girls trafficked into sexual exploitation as a result of migration, as well as the burden placed upon women at home whose husbands are forced to migrate.

Sanjay Vashist, Climate Action Network South Asia’s Director, said:

“The governments of South Asia must recognise that climate change knows no borders. Governments have a responsibility to use our shared mountains, rivers, history and cultures to seek common solutions to the droughts, sea-level rise and water shortages that the region is increasingly experiencing.  We urgently need more cross-border efforts to help people cope with the new normal of climate disasters and protect people who are forced to migrate.”

The Warsaw International Mechanism, established in 2013 at the UN and affirmed by the last round of climate talks at Paris last year, does seek to address climate-induced displacement and migration. However, little has yet been secured to protect the rights of people displaced by climate change, leaving their international legal status uncertain and not akin to the rights of people fleeing conflict who have in some cases similarly lost their homes, families and jobs.

Harjeet Singh, ActionAid’s Global Lead on Climate Change, said:

"The UN's Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage must work to ensure legal protection for people who are forced to migrate or are displaced by climate change. South Asian countries need support so that climate change doesn't inevitably translate into alarming levels of unsafe migration and conflict over resources.  Rich nations must also not fail to recognise their role in causing the climate crisis. They must help fight the flames in South Asia and elsewhere that they themselves kindled through carbon emissions in the first place."

The Global Forum on Migration and Development runs from 10 to 12 December in Dhaka, Bangladesh where meetings around the theme of a “transformative migration agenda” will be held.  The meetings will bring together government policy makers, civil society and development representatives, UN bodies and migration experts from around the world to agree upon solutions to migration issues.

Notes to editors:

The report “Climate Changes Knows No Borders” is available here: http://www.actionaid.org/publications/climate-change-knows-no-borders

For more information, briefings and interviews, please contact ActionAid’s Climate Change Lead, Harjeet Singh, currently in Dhaka on: +91 98 10 036 864 or Harjeet.singh@actionaid.org or Sanjay Vashist, Director, Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA) on +91 99100 96125.

The Global Forum on Migration and Development is being held in Dhaka, Bangladesh from 10 to 12 December 2016: http://gfmd.org/

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