Syria’s civil war refugees rose to over 4 million in a span of a little over 24 months, with more than 7.6 million internally displaced, together accounting for half of Syria’s population. As much distress and unrest that these figures have caused, they pale in comparison to the number of displaced that will likely occur due to desertification and climate change.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation estimations say in the last 40 years nearly one-third of the world’s arable land has been lost to erosion. A 2015 report finds 12 million hectares of land continues to be lost every year where 20 million tonnes of grain could have grown instead. Experts caution unless we change the way we manage our land, in the next 30 years a billion vulnerable people will have little choice but to fight or flee. Some 135 million people could be displaced by 2045 as a result of land desertification, according to a recent UK Ministry of Defence report. This figure could rise to 200 million who are displaced by other climate change impacts like natural disasters by 2050, said British environment refugee specialist Norman Myers.
Simulations show that future agricultural gross domestic product (AGDP) losses in developing countries in Latin America and India would be as high as 8 – 14 per cent and 4 percent respectively. In Africa, Burkina Faso would see 20 per cent loss and Mali up to 30 per cent.
The two billion people living in the driest regions that constitute 41 per cent of Earth’s terrestrial surface are already touched by climate change impacts in varying degrees, according to UNCCD. Seasonal or temporary migration has intensified. Poor harvests are forcing four out of ten households worldwide to move, crop destruction forces 17 per cent to move while 13 per cent leave owing to strong climatic events including extreme droughts.
In the last 60 years, 40 per cent of intrastate conflicts were associated with land and natural resources such as water, say UNCCD reports. In 2008, food insecurity triggered 60 riots in over 30 countries. Seventy percent of countries in the world already declare climate change impacts like desertification and drought as security issues today.
Uriel N Safriel, chair Committee on Science and Technology (CST) of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) said, “Science can rightly claim land degradation is an important driver of migration because countries that generate the most migrants today are countries where predicted desertification and land degradation have materialized.”