By Caitlin Werrell and Francesco Femia
The world is suddenly paying attention to the oft-ignored North African country of Mali, as it is racked by its most recent in a long string of crises: a coup d’etat.
This political and constitutional crisis sits atop an already extremely vulnerable situation - a volatile mix of climate change, drought, food shortages, migration and immobility, armed insurrection and heavy weapons proliferation that threaten to plunge the country into a state of instability not unlike Somalia.
As the international community, including the UN Security Council, moves to act on this crisis, it will be important to consider all the identifiable sources of Mali’s insecurity in order to get the solutions right.
FROM MODEL TO MAYHEM?
Mali has been described by some as a benchmark country in Africa, where democracy had put down healthy roots over the past two decades. Yet on March 21, a military junta seized control of the government in Bamako, ousting the democratically-elected President Amadou Toumani Toure from power.
The rationale, according to military spokespersons, was that the government had failed to put a lid on the separatist Tuareg rebellion in the north. Soon after, on April 4, the UN Security Council issued a strongly-worded presidential statement condemning the coup, and urging military leaders to restore power to civilian control.
Since then, the coup leaders have committed to a framework agreement “for the restoration of constitutional order in Mali,” but a positive outcome remains uncertain.
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By Brigitte Leoni
BANGKOK, 15 March 2012 - Following a recent decision by its Cabinet to buy land in Fiji as 'climate change insurance' for its population, Kiribati President, Anote Tong has called on the international community to address the effects of climate change that could wipe out the entire Pacific archipelago.
While the governments of both the Pacific island nations are currently in talks about the nearly 6,000 acres of fertile land on Fiji's main island, Viti Levu which is being offered by a church group for $9.6 million, President Tong hopes that it will never be necessary for the 103,000 people of Kiribati to leave.
The move comes three years after President Tong took centre stage at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction to implore the international community to take effective action against climate change before it became too late for Kiribati and other small island developing states of the Pacific.
This week he told the media: "We would hope not to put everyone on one piece of land, but if it became absolutely necessary, yes, we could do it. It wouldn't be for me, personally, but would apply more to a younger generation. For them, moving won't be a matter of choice. It's basically going to be a matter of survival."
Jerry Velasquez, Head of UNISDR Asia Pacific, believes that now is not time to give up. "We still have time to build community resilience and press on with efforts to mitigate catastrophic climate change before it's too late. Climate migration, if it has to happen, should be an adaptation option for resilient communities," he said.
Kiribati is at the heart of the debate on climate change. Many of its atolls rise just 2.0 metres above sea level. It is comprised of 33 tiny islands scattered across the ocean with more than half its population crowded onto one island - South Tarawa, the capital.
This recent development in Kiribati comes on the heels of a new Asia Development Bank (ADB) report released last week, which states that low-lying Pacific islands will be extremely vulnerable to sea-level rise, high intensity cyclones, and storm surges.
The report, Addressing Climate Change and Migration in Asia and the Pacific highlights that with warmer seas, more intense cyclones could become a pattern. It further predicts widespread coastal inundation for Kiribati's main island.
Released at the Second Asia-Pacific Climate Change Adaptation Forum in Bangkok, the report identifies Kiribati, Tuvalu, and Papua New Guinea as Pacific migration hotspots due to climate change.
Kiribati and Tuvalu face the highest threat from sea-level rise while Papua New Guinea is expected to experience greater risk from flash flooding across the highlands and coastal flooding along the south coast, according to the report.
According to ADB some 42 million people in the Asia Pacific region were displaced by environmental disasters in the past two years. Larger countries will also face tough migration challenges due to climate change in the coming years. India, for example, has the highest number of people who may be affected by rising sea levels; thirty seven million of its citizens may be impacted by climate change by 2050.
"If we cannot save Kiribati tomorrow, we will also be obliged to move millions of people from Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, Manila, the capital of the Philippines and many other cities in the world sooner or later'', said Jerry Velasquez.
Over the last five years, President Tong has continued to stress that his country may become uninhabitable by the 2050s due to rising sea levels and salination provoked by climate change.
On Abaiang, one of Kiribati's remote outer islands, an empty sandbar is evidence of the encroaching sea. There was a village there once called Tebunginako. Residents were forced to relocate after the sea ruined crops and drinking water. Then a large storm destroyed their houses. Some of the villagers have rebuilt further inland; others have scattered for good.
22 November 2011, NEW YORK, United States (UNHCR) – UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres today warned the UN Security Council in New York of the growing threat to international peace and security from climate change and its interaction with other mass displacement factors.
Addressing the Council members, Guterres said climate change was fuelling the scale and complexity of global displacement. He also cautioned against viewing climate change in isolation from other global megatrends such as population growth, urbanization, and growing food, water and energy insecurity.
"There is little value in posing the simplistic question, how many people are going to be displaced by climate change?," he said. "Instead, we should be addressing the more complex issue of the way in which global warming, rising sea levels, changing weather patterns and other manifestations of climate change are interacting with, and reinforcing, other global imbalances, so as to produce some very powerful drivers of instability, conflict and displacement."
Guterres listed declining farming possibilities in developing countries, and competition for scarce resources such as water and agricultural land, as potential causes of both displacement and conflict.
He also spoke of risks to citizenship among people forced to abandon their small island states due to rising sea levels, and the increasing evidence of a relationship between climate change and flooding and other natural disasters – which by one estimate displaced more than 40 million people in 2010.
"The process of climate change and its role in reinforcing other global imbalances constitutes an important threat to peace and security," he said. In a world that is becoming smaller and smaller, and which for the first time is facing physical limits to economic growth, that threat can only grow.
Guterres called on the Council members to take immediate steps to limit the extent to which climate change acts as a driver of conflict and displacement. He said it was imperative for the international community to establish a support programme to help poorer countries adapt and cope.
And he urged the international community to formulate and adopt a set of principles to help people forced to leave their country as a result of catastrophic environmental events but who may not otherwise meet the requirements necessary to be recognized under international law as refugees.
"Providing such support is a humanitarian imperative. But it is also our common interest," Guterres said. "If climate change goes unchecked, and if we fail to find sustainable solutions for displaced populations, we will be creating the conditions in which further breaches of international peace and security are certain to take place."
- Fleeing Thai floods: Burmese migrant's story of extortion, threats
- UN chief and Kiribati leader warn over climate change threat to Pacific islands
- Famine Expected to Hit All of Somalia, Parts of Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia
- Kenya’s biofuel evictions
- Climate change displaced 42.3m people in 2010, figures to grow