SADC: The rise and rise of Climate Refugees

Refugee – an identity typically associated with displacement due to lack of peace and security in a region. Political refugees are not out of norm in the country. Yet there is a rising number of climate refugees who are not entirely attributed in the continent. To date, Sub Saharan Africa hosts over 26% of the global population of refugees.

However, environmental violence from human activity is not discounted from displacement of people, natural disasters included. According to The Africa Report on internal displacement, 1,3 million people have been displaced by natural disasters related to climate change in 2015.

The majority of African climate refugees are from Southern Africa, with 411 000 displaced over the past year and Malawi in particular was most affected. Seasonal floods in January 2015 displaced over 336 000 people, with floodwaters carrying away livestock, damaging infrastructure and burying multiple villages and farmsteads. 106 000 displaced Malawians sought refuge with their relatives while others found home in displacement and refugee camps. The country hosts a population of which 80% rely on agriculture for their livelihoods, which exposes it to climate stress.

While Southern Africa host economic and political refugees, none of the countries in the region identify climate refugees as just that. Most are welcomed on the basis of economic displacement based on natural disasters, which I believe erases the holistic severity of climate change in the region, and its response. The root cause of climate refugees has not been able to be addressed.

Primary level agriculture is a great poverty eradication in the region, but evidently itonly works in the short term. The report predicts an increase in the risk of disaster displacement, through extreme weather conditions becoming more frequent. More drought and heavy rainfall is predicted in the region, which we have witnessed through Cyclone Dineo that swept Madagascar, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe earlier this year.

There is a growing need for a sense of agency in climate change response in the region. While the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has ratified the SADC Environment and Land Management Sector (ELMS) in 1991, more long-term responses are demanded to ensure adaptability to changes in the environment. While ELMS predominantly speaks on sustainable measures on agricultural practices, the agriculture industry needs to advance in domestic farming through an advancement of technological transfer and commercialization.

This requires uptake of skills in people living in rural areas who work in the agricultural industry, to rely less on land produce but rather the secondary or tertiary level of food production. In terms of infrastructure, SADC could invest in a multi-national drainage system in rural and urban areas to streamline flooding reasonably. Understandably, these are capital intensive strategies that the region may not have access to. However, the $24 Billion investment from the African Development Bank Group (AFDB) could be tied in the first tier of possible solutions.

Conclusively, identifying climate refugees specifically under the realm of climate change as to economic displacement allows more data specific information in combating climate change.  Through data, governments and other stakeholders would have an easier ability to analyze trends, identify soluble policy options and take early preventative measures as to responsive measures on an annual basis.