Climate change to accelerate displacement in Africa, top UN official warns

22 October 2009

Climate change will lead to ever greater numbers of people being uprooted in Africa, the top United Nations humanitarian official said today, calling for enhanced and swift actions to reduce disaster risk and step up mitigation.

“Too often, the humanitarian implications of climate change and the need for adaptation to the new, more dangerous reality of more frequent and intense natural disasters are forgotten as the world focuses on the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes said at the African Union (AU) Special Summit on Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Kampala, Uganda.

Addressing a panel on “Natural Disasters, Climate Change and Food Security,” he noted that displacement is prompted by natural disasters and climate change, with the resulting food and water shortages promising to be “one of the greatest – if not the greatest – challenge many countries will face in the years ahead.”

Many African countries, Mr. Holmes pointed out, have already experienced the effects of more frequent and intense natural hazard events, including floods and storms, brought on by climate change.

Last year, there were 104 globally reported natural disaster, 99 per cent of them climate related, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The number of people impacted in Africa has doubled in the past two decades, up from 9 million in 1989 to nearly 17 million in 2008.

Those most vulnerable to climate change will be hardest hit, Mr. Holmes pointed out, calling for intensive water retention measures in drought-prone areas and other actions to be taken.

The AU gathering, which began today, is expected to adopt the Convention on Protection and Assistance for Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, which would be the first legally-binding regional treaty recognizing the multiple causes of internal displacement and that natural disasters and conflict are drivers of this phenomenon.

During his five-day visit to Uganda, Mr. Holmes will also tour areas of the north of the Great Lakes nation where nearly 2 million people have been driven from their homes by over two decades of fighting between the Government and the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

 

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