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Climate change and displacement

Climate change and displacement

How conflict and climate change form a toxic combination that drives people from their homes.

They murdered his father, torched his neighbourhood and sent him running for his life. Rounding up as many family members as he could find, Hawali Oumar fled his hometown of Baga, in north-eastern Nigeria, to escape the killers of Boko Haram. Together, they made the journey over the border to the Chadian side of Lake Chad.

Even away from the gunfire, Hawali, a 46-year-old fisherman, found that his problems were not over. With help from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, in the form of a boat, nets and other gear, he has managed to sustain himself and his extended family by plying his trade in his new community. But the once mighty Lake Chad, a source of water and livelihoods for millions of people, has shrunk by 90 per cent since the 1960s. Invasive plants cover half of what is left, making it harder for boats to gain access to the lake. Because of climate change, population growth and unregulated irrigation, the surrounding area suffers from desertification, deforestation and drought.

As a result, life for the communities around Lake Chad gets tougher every year. Violence in the region has driven millions of people from their homes in Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria and Niger. And the swelling population of the displaced must jostle for a meagre share of the area’s dwindling resources.

Hawali’s story is only one illustration of how the world’s displaced are on the front line of climate change. Of the 20.4 million refugees under UNHCR’s mandate at the end of 2018, a third were located in the world’s least developed countries, which are often highly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, or which suffer from a scarcity of resources and infrastructure.

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