Climate change may cause hundreds of millions to be trapped in vulnerable cities and rural areas, affecting people who are unable to relocate due to poverty or the lack of a better option. A U.K. government committee’s study advises that those who are trapped will represent “just as important a policy concern as those who do migrate” in environmental disasters.
Climate disasters displaced 42 million people last year alone, up from 17 million in 2009. With climate change, scientists report the world is largely unprepared to handle the greater number of people needing to take refuge.
Reduced options for migration, combined with incomes threatened by environmental change, mean that people are likely to migrate in illegal, irregular, unsafe, exploited or unplanned ways. People are also likely to find themselves migrating to areas of high environmental risk, such as low-lying urban areas in mega-deltas or slums in water-insecure expanding cities.
Poor and immigrant populations are especially at risk in disaster. Relocating is expensive, and regions that experience environmental change could lose additional wealth. Hurricane Katrina is a telling example of how natural disaster affects a city. In 2005, the devastating hurricane caused the wealthy to move from New Orleans, while lower-income populations stayed behind in less safe emergency shelters. By 2010, the city’s population had shrunk by 25.4 percent.
Lacking infrastructure and access to sanitation and clean water, developing countries face an even greater challenge. The report estimates that by 2060, up to 552 million people living in rural Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean will be affected by flooding.