Marking the United Nations Day for Disaster Reduction, the UN University (UNU) today called on the international community to recognize the plight of people who are displaced not by dramatic disasters but by gradual negative changes in the environment.
"This is a highly complex issue, with global organizations already overwhelmed by the demands of conventionally recognized refugees," said UNU Rector Hans van Ginkel. "We should prepare now, however, to define, accept and accommodate this new breed of 'refugee' within international frameworks.
Unlike victims of political upheaval or violence who have access through governments and international organizations to such assistance as funding, food, tools, shelter, schools and clinics, "environmental refugees" are not yet recognized in world conventions, the UNU's Institute for Environment and Human Security in Bonn, Germany, said in a statement.
"There are well-founded fears that the number of people fleeing untenable environmental conditions may grow exponentially as the world experiences the effects of climate change and other phenomena," Institute Director Janos Bogardi said. "This new category of 'refugee' needs to find a place in international agreements. We need to better anticipate support requirements, similar to those of people fleeing other unviable situations."
He noted that the term "environmental refugee" rankled many experts for masking what were often complex motives behind migration and implicitly laying the blame on nature when often the policies and practices of people were the real cause of displacement.
The Institute has been working to establish an internationally agreed glossary of terms to promote cooperation in the broad area of environment and human security.