The growing risk of climate refugees


Kshithija Mulam

Water cascades from an overflowing creek in Santa Clara, washing up on the surrounding banks during floods in March. The Bay Area experienced a high amount of rainfall and flooding in early March, with water levels reaching a high of 14.4 feet in San Jose.

by Srinath Somasundaram, Reporter

Climate change has forced many in disaster prone areas such as Puerto Rico to leave their homes, causing the number of environmental refugees to grow.

An increasing number of climate refugees have been witnessed in countries stretching from South-east Asia, with its heavy monsoons, to Africa, with its large numbers of mudslides, to the Americas, with its devastating floods that forced many to rebuild their houses.  

In the United States, a series of hurricanes that primarily affected Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico threw residents into turmoil, causing them to initially struggle with finding basic living necessities. Some Puerto Ricans, hit by both Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria, have opted to leave their homeland for a safer place to live.

“I think ultimately people are going to stop living in those areas just because so much is going on, and they keep having to leave their home anyways,” Green Team co-president Anika Banga (12) said. “I think this is especially problematic because in certain areas, people who live there don’t have the means of moving away, so they will be forced to live in horrible conditions.”

In the case of Asia, heavy monsoon rains and flooding in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan caused deaths of over a thousand people. In addition, in the relatively low-lying parts of Nepal, intense flooding damaged over 80,000 homes.

In addition to the immediate struggle of finding food, water and shelter, some Nepalese people have migrated to neighboring Tibet to avoid similar disasters in the future.

As global sea levels rise, the frequency of similar catastrophic events are predicted to increase. As a result, people in exposed areas may need  to start migrating to other countries.

“I think once disaster hits and people lose their homes, there are probably many of them that are being forced to look for residences elsewhere,” Green Team adviser Diana Moss said. “[In the future] you’d like to believe that people in those areas would be resettled, and they would chose to live in other areas.”

However, destructive natural disasters are occurring more frequently each year; in 2001, there were around 450 natural disasters while in 2016 there were 750. Larger amounts of people will be forced out of their homes, possibly causing a refugee crisis in which some countries will receive sudden influxes of immigrants due these natural disasters.