Refugees end up in climate disaster zones

·2-min read

Refugees who've fled homeland conflicts often end up facing new perils in climate disaster hotspots, a United Nations conference has been told.

Delegates from 40 countries are in Brisbane to discuss how to limit deaths, displacements and economic losses in the Asia-Pacific region - the most disaster prone place on Earth.

Leaders say people who have escaped war and persecution frequently end up being hammered by deadly, climate-fuelled disasters in the very places they've sought refuge.

They point to 1.3 million registered Afghan refugees who've been living for years in Pakistan, where the recent floods swamped a third of the country and affected 33 million people.

And they highlight Bangladesh's exposed coastal district of Cox's Bazar, where more than a million Rohingya people are living in camps having fled ethnic and religious oppression in neighbouring Myanmar.

"It's one of the most vulnerable locations in Bangladesh," said Saber Chowdhury, who sits in the nation's parliament and chairs a committee on the environment and climate change.

"There you have storm surges, you have land slides, you have torrential rains, you have cyclones.

"To add to all of that - and this, of course, we fully understand - about 6000 acres of pristine forest was razed to the ground because that's where they had built their shelters, and there was no time for any co-ordination. That in itself is a conservation disaster"

The massive influx occurred over two months and Mr Chowdhury said it was overwhelming in every sense.

But he said it showed what the world must prepare for as climate change fuelled more frequent and more severe disasters and building resilience is essential.

Loretta Hieber Girardet is the chief of the knowledge branch with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.

She said there was an urgent need to boost disaster resilience funding in countries already facing conflict but it was a very hard sell.

"This is not easy to do for obvious reasons. There's a reluctance to invest money in crisis settings," she said.

"There is an ambitious aim to scale up $100 billion dollars a year in climate financing with the hope more than half of that will go to adaptation.

"(But) there's a real risk those countries that are at the frontline and suffering from conflict will not be able to benefit from this."

Ms Hieber Girardet said the UNDRR was focused on building case studies that show how community-based interventions - local responses to local challenges and crises - can provide a safe way of investing in climate resilience in such places.

"We really are promoting integrated planning, programming and financing," she said.

"It's very challenging when you see humanitarian financing and the limited development funding being carried out in a very unco-ordinated way."

The Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, co-hosted by the UN and Australia, continues until Thursday.