Climate Migrants in the Middle East: a matter to tackle now

20 June 2019

For the Middle East, the climate crisis is already a harsh reality. From the floods of Jeddah to the droughts and sea level rise in many Mediterranean cities. The region will face more droughts, sea level rise, heat waves, and more hot days, which will make especially children and women more vulnerable. These effects will lead to crop failure in the areas with poor natural resource management. The conflict over scarce resources will increase and lead to demographic pressures in the places people flee to. This will mean having internally displaced persons; others might seek asylum. They might be portrayed as economic migrants, but in 10 years they will be clearly classified as climate migrants. One of the biggest challenges in developing new policies will be to define such climate migrants.  

The Nile delta, in Egypt, for example, which is highly vulnerable to sea level rise, is densely populated. With a 1m rise in sea level, an estimated 4,500 km2 of farmland could be flooded, displacing 6 million people.  

Internal migration has already started in the Middle East. If the climate crisis intensifies, we risk a political and armed conflict taking hold throughout the Fertile Crescent, which will probably be a lot less fertile because of climate change. Part of the region is already experiencing a “climate-war” in Syria which has been linked to the 2006-2010 drought that led to significant migration of former farmers and unemployed youth to move towards the countries” urban areas. The region is already water-stressed. This scarcity in combination with other social and institutional factors could continue to fuel tensions in the region or trigger other abrupt, violent conflicts as we have seen in Syria.  

Having said this, and in order not to have massive, destabilizing levels of climate migration, the world should not exceed the 1.5°C increase, as well a creating clear mechanisms on how to deal with this pressing issue. The mechanisms should take into consideration needed funding and strong international laws for protecting migrants.

Global warming will do the Middle East no favours. The region will be hit hard by the effects of climate change. Morocco is already serving as a transit route between West Africa and Europe, which is creating pressure on its coastal areas that are already facing climate change effects. The number of warm days in the region is expected to increase at a rate twice the global average. Climate migrants will be the new internal and regional security issue. These people will face health and psychological problems as well. Concrete measures to shield these new migrants are needed since, otherwise, the area will be facing more resource conflicts which will weaken the States in the region.

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