Foreign Affairs official calls for urgency in reducing climate change impact on migration

Climate change events continue to cause the mass displacement of people in Latin America and the Caribbean. Photo from the International Labour Organization (ILO).
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By Orville Williams

With natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, landslides and volcanoes continuing to threaten countries in the region, one official with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is calling for more urgency in mitigating the impact of these occurrences, particularly on migration.

Senior Consular Affairs Officer in the Ministry, Lance Browne, made that appeal while addressing a regional news conference for the project “Regional Dialogue to Address Human Mobility and Climate Change Adaptation” – a collaboration between the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Commission, funded by the Federal Republic of Germany.

During his speech, Browne referenced the most recent incident where climate change adversely affected the country, in making the point that successfully arresting this impact will require clear, strategic action.

“There can be no further doubt of the impact to [Antigua and Barbuda’s] social, economic and health-related fortunes, as a result of increasing evidence of climate change. All of us can relate, certainly, to [Hurricanes Irma and] Maria in 2017 and the consequent evacuation of an entire island, that being Barbuda of course.

“In reconfiguring my own thinking vis-à-vis migration as a consequence of climate change, I recognised that I must see it as something to be addressed with all deliberate speed by myself, as well as every other citizen of Antigua and Barbuda. [However], we must do so with, of course, a coherent sense of purpose if our nation is going to successfully navigate the issues related to the phenomenon.”

 While Browne’s appeal for urgency in this regard should be received as such, it is certainly not a new concern. Several countries across the region have been contemplating measures to recover from the widespread displacement of people due to climate change events.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) reported in May last year, that 2019’s Hurricane Dorian – which struck the Bahamas – caused the displacement of over 450,000 people in seven countries, while floods and landslides in Brazil accounted for nearly 300,000 persons being displaced in the same year.  

In Central America, droughts and floods continue to affect the production of crops, causing food shortages and forcing people to migrate as a result. Some estimates actually say nearly 30 million people could be displaced from that region to the United States, mostly due to the food insecurity effected by climate change events.

In the push for more knowledge-sharing and regional collaboration, the IOM executed workshops in each of the independent OECS member-states, geared toward getting an understanding of the different “contexts regarding data on mobility due to environmental factors and climate change.”

Browne applauded that initiative as a means of preparing countries like Antigua and Barbuda, to be able to respond effectively to climate change events.  

“As a representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the workshop has served to increase my awareness of the necessity to collect proper disaggregated data on the movement of persons in and out of Antigua and Barbuda, so that we are able to efficiently and effectively identify and respond to climate-change-related scenarios.

“This is critical, because…there are ever-increasing situations which will require these types of interventions and we in the Caribbean – particularly the smaller islands – are also challenged by very scarce resources, whether they be technical, financial and in some instances, even human resources,” Browne explained.  

“We are literally frontline, we are the definition of frontline states, so for us this is existential. What I am hoping is that as our capacities for collecting and analysing migration data improve, we will be better able to influence real change among our lawmaking and policy-designing institutions, as well as to form socially-responsible and economically-beneficial collaborations with other stakeholders, motivated by improving the lot of humanity,” Browne added.

In addition to Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia and St Vincent & the Grenadines also benefited from the workshop and will continue to be engaged under the wider project.

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