In an interview with this newspaper, Andrew Harper, special advisor on climate action for the UN refugee agency (Acnur), warned: “We must anticipate the havoc new warming episodes will bring.”
Harper started working at the UN agency in Iran 30 years ago. There he attended the reception of Shiites who had been expelled by Saddam Hussein when he accelerated the drying of the Iraqi swamps where this population had lived for 6,000 years.
Then the same work has been repeated in many other countries like Syria. This is a photo of Marwan, a 4-year-old boy who crossed the desert fleeing the Syrian war in 2014 and went viral.
For this reason, she is very aware that climate change, environmental degradation and natural disasters are increasingly a focus for migration and refugees.
Harper estimates that 103 million people have suffered these displacements, adding victims of climate change (drought, flood…), among other events, as well as conflicts and wars. “Unless we act to address the root causes of these displacements, including those caused by climate change, we will see millions or even tens of millions of people displaced in the future,” he warned. “We can all do more about the extreme severity with which climate change is going to affect us,” he says.
As a senior official at UNHCR, he is seeing the impact that the incident is having on “the people we provide assistance and protection on a daily basis,” he says. They point out that cyclones, droughts or floods are affecting populations in different parts of the world.
you have to guess. We know scientifically what will happen in the next 15 or 20 years
He believes that it is “impossible” to strictly measure the number of people displaced by global warming, as many other factors influence these migrant movements. But he knows that “there is a displacement every second”.
In the old days, when wars ended, the displaced could return to their homes if there was peace, he says. “But the situation in Somalia or Afghanistan, in which we have war conflicts combined with the effects of climate change, makes it possible to verify that there are people who leave their homes and are then unable to return, because they Can no longer take with you a way of permanent life”.
Is climate change triggering conflicts and wars? He is prescient if he dares to say that we are increasingly certain that extreme weather events are exerting greater pressures that make it more difficult for some communities to survive as they have done in previous generations.
Climate change links environmental degradation, corruption, poor governance, corruption or population growth
This is something they have verified when they are told on the ground that “they cannot sow or harvest crops” or that 10 million cattle have been lost to drought in the Horn of Africa.
“Climate change is often another element that adds to environmental degradation, corruption, poor governance, corruption or population growth. All these factors are further exacerbated by climate change, until the situation explodes”, he said. Cast light on. And the result is an increase in inequality and the fight for natural resources (Sudan, Mali, Niger).
So far, UNHCR has acted in a reactive manner by positioning itself on the other side of the border with camps (blankets, water, schools…), as a humanitarian response to help the victims.
But now he says that action should be taken quickly. “We know scientifically what will happen in the next 15 or 20 years,” he says. he asks for it before its impending episode nino which begins (warming of the equatorial Pacific with worldwide effects).
“We are entering a more dangerous period. It is almost negligent not to take preventive action when we know the effects will be felt”, he added.
Anticipating the effects of all this meant building more solid infrastructures: changing stores to be built of wood or concrete.
Call for special help for countries that were refuges and are today climate vulnerable
More than 70% of the world’s refugees and internally displaced persons come from the countries most vulnerable to climate change and are among the first to experience extreme weather conditions.
The countries most affected by climate change are those with the least capacity to adapt; The problem will affect everyone, although the greater or lesser incidence “will depend on whether the country has the resources to face it and is resilient,” he explained.
The Horn of Africa, Somalia (one million displaced people), Ethiopia, as well as Kenya and South Sudan are the “most worrisome” regions, while Mozambique, Zimbabwe or Malawi, countries being crossed by cyclones, are listed as other vulnerable. has been indicated. region. that “never before have they had such dreadful effects”.
His concern extends particularly to Pakistan, which has a million refugees, and other countries that have been generous in receiving them and are now exposed to climate disasters.
For this reason, assistance (early warning, support…) to these solidarity countries is a priority, so that they do not break down or feel hopeless or unable to cope with the after-effects of climate change and refugees. He recently addressed the issue, writing, “We cannot fail these states, nor the most vulnerable who have taken refuge in them.”
“Change the way we live and influence those who represent us”
Harper calls for the same urgency for all these refugees that the Secretary-General of the United Nations has called for in the face of climate action. “We can’t wait for another climate conference (such as the one held annually by the United Nations),” among other reasons, because at these meetings “everyone says what is politically correct, but Some believe it to be true.” He’s doing something to change things.” For him, “changing the way of life” is a priority and try to influence those who represent us.
On the other hand, Harper is particularly grateful for the assistance that Spain has provided to this UN agency.
“If everyone was as generous as the Spanish citizens, we could do a lot more.” This was expressed in a debate organized by the La Caixa Foundation at the Caixaforum in Madrid, where they discussed the impact of climate change on food security.
“Fossil fuel subsidies kill and make us sick”
At the meeting, ecologist Fernando Valladares, a CSIC research professor, denounced the inconsistency of grain shipments unblocked in the Black Sea for animal feed in the face of a refugee tragedy. “Eight out of 10 ships are going to feed animals because animal feed is a better business than feeding people suffering from malnutrition,” he said.
Valladares called for countering “retardation” (an attempt to postpone climate action to reduce this need), which is a derivative of denialism, and called for an end to fossil fuel subsidies, “which kill us And makes us sick.”
“Doing nothing is a violation of human rights; Subsidizing fossil fuels is attacking those human rights”, he reiterated in his speech in a typically forceful tone.
Valladares affirms the difference that exists between “what is said and what is done”. And he expressed his firm belief that if “we had reduced our dependence on fossil fuels earlier, Putin would not have dared to invade Ukraine”, as he is aware of the EU’s vulnerability in the region.
Fighting malnutrition in Ethiopia and beyond
The situation is particularly critical in refugee camps in Ethiopia, where the situation is set to worsen in 2022 due to internal conflict in the country, the effects of climate change and rising prices of basic products. The saddest thing is that as a result of cuts in global funding, food rations distributed to refugees have been reduced.
Over the past 20 years, the “La Caixa” Foundation has supported the UNHCR in projects in South Sudan, Chad, Syria and Ethiopia, which is why it has become a key strategic partner of the agency, Harper explained.
Since 2017, UNHCR’s MOM project (Innovation Plan for Child Nutrition) has been fighting child malnutrition in refugee camps in Ethiopia’s Gambela and Dolo Addo regions, placing mothers at the center of the humanitarian response. The program has benefited 1,264,539 people, mainly children under the age of five, pregnant and lactating women, adult caregivers, and professionals from partner organizations and community agents. The foundation contributes 1 million euros per year to UNHCR for the prevention of malnutrition and reduction of anemia among the most vulnerable minors. It aims to reduce the environmental impact of activities and adapt them to the consequences of climate change (recurring droughts).