The term, refugee is quite a common phenomenon. In Africa it is commonly associated with hunger, famine and civil wars, in countries like Somalia, DRC, Rwanda, Burundi and Ethiopia, among others. Neither has the term been associated with chronic weather patterns such as climate change.
By Peter Makwanya
In the African context, when floods wreak havoc and destroy homes, infrastructure and livestock, in an Armageddon style, the concerned authorities and the government, always use terms like internally displaced people — a polite way of saying: we have internal climate refugees in the country. When the state of the economy deteriorates, no longer adding up or being supportive to basket case or comatose levels, we often use the term, “economic migrants”.
Once again, a polite way of saying, climate refugees. Sadly, all these terms are not only synonymous with Africa but some pockets of the Middle East.
In this regard, countries can no longer continue hiding behind the finger by calling a spade, a big spoon, or a crocodile a big lizard. No, we actually and rightfully have climate refugees in our midst and are having problems in managing our situations because we are calling the situation what it is not.
In Africa, the climate-induced migration situations are quite glaring and we can hardly hide them anymore, no matter how much we draw from our linguistic resources to try and replenish the circumstances. Right now, as this issue is under discussion, we have climate refugees in Mozambique, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, internally displaced climate refugees in Zimbabwe, from the aftermath of last year’s, Chingwizi and Tsholotsho humanitarian crises.
These people’s resettlement and relocation programmes have never been an easy task. These were environmental catastrophes with a strong influence to unbearable weather patterns.
The world right now is experiencing devastating and unforgiving climate-related scenarios. Therefore, judging from the number of people from West and North Africa drowning in the Mediterranean Sea, numbers actually don’t lie and we have climate migrants from Africa, masquerading as economic refugees.
As a result of the prevailing flooding situations in Southern Africa, where flooding has submerged a number of squatter settlements in South Africa, we cannot continue to pretend and fool anyone because the rehabilitation of flood victims is not a cheap process. In Mozambique, it is always the norm, come the rainy season.
Climate induced refugees are not only a result of too wet conditions, as also the warming periods have scaled up, coupled with some sporadic and erratic shifts in seasons, rendering agricultural planning unsustainable in the process. Even when the planting season is upon us, there is always a wave of mass crop failures, and also a recurance of a new breed of pesticides resistant insects, that are giving agricultural experts sleepless nights. Even the rains falling incessantly in Southern Africa have come late as the majority of crops were already a write-off.
Many countries have become hotter or colder than normal. Heat waves, just as floods, wild fires and lower temperatures have also become a cause for concern.
Due to the reduction of agricultural productivity, there has always been a growing desire in people to migrate to other countries, seen as greener pastures as economic refugees but overally, the push factor would have been climate-induced circumstances. As such the potential link between climate and migration has since leap-frogged in the 21st Century, when we expect everything to be environmentally and technologically compliant, although we cannot rule out the possibility of other militating factors.
Finally, it is important in this regard, to always treat climate change as a push factor in displacing people, equally the same as war, hunger and famine.
Peter Makwanya is a climate change communicator. He writes in his capacity and can be contacted on: firstname.lastname@example.org