Who is affected by climate change, and how?

Some are affected by drought, others by extreme wet conditions, some by heat and others by harsh winters.

The Aral Sea springs back to life
Climate change is affecting communities far and wide, all in different ways [Didier Bizet/Al Jazeera]

No one can be sure just how many people will be displaced by climate change by the middle of this century. In fact, the estimates vary widely, with some putting the number at  25 million and others suggesting it could hit the  one billion mark .

This, however, is not the biggest challenge. Terms and ideas such as “climate refugee” or “environmental refugee” have not yet become recognised classifications and thus “this amorphous, global population of refugees does not have any international legal protection or agency upholding their human rights or helping to keep them safe.

As it stands, those who intend to declare themselves as environmental refugees, have no opportunity for recourse.

Pirates of the Bay of Bengal

Fishing in the Sundarbans region on the shared border has become increasingly dangerous [Piyal Adhikary/EPA]
Fishing in the Sundarbans region on the shared border has become increasingly dangerous [Piyal Adhikary/EPA]

Armed Bangladeshi gangs are kidnapping Indian fishermen for ransom, wreaking havoc, and threatening livelihoods.  The fishing season, which starts in mid-June and lasts until mid-September, sees about 150,000 fishermen set out for the Bay of Bengal, all fearing capture for ransom by armed pirate gangs.

There are about a dozen pirate gangs  active in the Sundarbans a group of islands in the mouth of the Bay of Bengal, according to Baki, leader of the pirate gang Noah Vahini.  Raju Vahini and Jehangir Vahini – each of which includes nearly 100 pirates – are the most dreaded groups.

The fisherman live hand-to-mouth – their catch being the food that feeds them and their families. Their capture not only prevents them feeding their families, but the ransom is enough to set them back far more than what they would have gained through work.

Bangladeshi authorities have not managed to control this problem and it is now up to the new Indian Government to find a way to help their local, hard-working men.

Thailand: Reclaiming mangroves for shrimp production

A report  from the Environmental Justice Foundation notes: “Evidence suggests that shrimp aquaculture has been a major contributor to global mangrove forest loss and, in a number of countries, it is considered to be the biggest threat to these ecosystems.”

The report estimates that as much as 38 percent of recent mangrove loss may be due to shrimp farm development.  As in many other places in the world, the loss of biodiversity and the concentration of farms in Kanchanadit, southern Thailand, came at a high environmental  cost , causing frequent outbreaks of disease in the shrimp ponds.

Intensive shrimp farms use antibiotics, fertiliers, disinfectants and pesticides that, in Thailand, are often released  into the natural streams of water without being treated beforehand.

In the December 2004 tsunami Indian Ocean coastlines, from Thailand to Sri Lanka, were destroyed with many  lamenting  that they had lost the mangroves that used to protect the shorelines. Research, however, revealed later that mangroves reduced the deadly impact of the tsunami waves in areas where the plants flourished.

Red Alert, life inside the Beijing smog

In January this year, Beijing’s air quality index (AQI) was over 250, more than 20 times the level recommended by the World Health Organization. The city was shrouded in thick, sepia-toned air.

From street level the tops of skyscrapers seemed to disappear, blurring into the dull grey sky. In some areas visibility dropped to only 200 metres. But while this was the capital’s first declared Red Alert, it wasn’t the worst smog it had seen.

Just days before the AQI levels soared to more than 1,000, and the city had seemed to disappear entirely.

In order to protect themselves, their children and pets, families were scrambling to get out of the city for a short one or two day trip while schools closed for a minimum of 3 days, waiting for the smog to settle.

According to Greenpeace, China’s air pollution puts public health at risk every day because of the presence of minuscule particles known as PM2.5. These are more prone to carrying a variety of toxic heavy metals, acid oxides, organic pollutants and other chemicals, as well as micro-organisms such as bacteria and viruses in the air. When inhaled the particles can enter the bloodstream and contribute to a number of cardiovascular and respiratory problems, as well increasing the risk of cancer.

While there are no quick fixes, the government has implemented a number of policies to improve conditions over the long term, including a new emissions standard which took effect this year.

Beijing has already closed down three of its four coal-fired factories, and the last remaining facility is due to be shut this year.

This year also heralds the implementation a harsher environmental protection law which will measure infringements by number of days, rather than per incident.

Mongolia: Facing climate change collectively

With extreme climate and weather change, Mongolia,  a country where  desertification, extreme weather patterns and overburdened pastures  are becoming the norm, the winters have become even more extreme.

This past winter claimed some 1.1 million head of livestock, forcing the Mongolian government to declare a state of national emergency. While the “dzud” – the word used to describe harsh winters in Mongolian – of 2009-2010, wiped out 20 percent of the nation’s herds, which accounted for an estimated 4 percent of the GDP.

To survive and keep earning an income, families are banding together to form work collectives, known as pasture user groups, to help with disaster preparedness.

They pool labour and resources to allow everyone to keep going and keep earning. In addition to environmental benefits, the pasture user groups in Tariat County, in Arkhangai Province, have reaped financial benefits. Selling yak wool together as a collective rather than individually has allowed them to cut out the middle man and negotiate higher prices on raw materials.

US tribes work with scientists against climate change

Across Oklahoma there are 38 tribes that struggle with the changing weather conditions. While the weather affects all residents, the Native American nations face unique challenges.

For one, many of them don’t own or manage their own water facilities – the state does. In some cases, the state has  diverted  water from tribal lands towards large cities without asking for the tribes’ approval or compensating them for it.

Climate change also  threatens the cultural practices of the tribes. It has decimated important species used in traditional craft-making, such as river cane and the freshwater mussel, and it has thrown off traditional growing seasons and accompanying ceremonies.

In light of these challenges,  the South Central Climate Science Centre ( SCCSC ) was established in 2012 and has been working with tribes across south-central US to identify their unique vulnerabilities, help them cope with emergencies and develop long-term adaptation strategies. It’s a federally funded research consortium that comprises four state universities across the region and two Native American tribes: the Choctaw and the Chickasaw.

The Choctaw v climate change: ‘The earth is speaking’

In the United States, members of the Choctaw nation fight to reclaim their relationship with the land in a world without seasons.

In Oklahoma, the earth seems to be shouting. From 2010 to 2015, the land plunged the state into a punishing drought, bringing the Choctaw nation to the brink of a water crisis. In 2011, it was the  second-hottest summer on record , with more than 35 consecutive days of temperatures above 37C.

Then last summer, the missing rains arrived, but in devastating  30cm deluges . The seemingly incessant floods tore through the state all summer long, destroying houses and wiping out crops.

The endangered lifeline of Madagascar’s sharks

In the 1970s, around Madagascar – the world’s fourth-largest island – the waters were so full of sharks that parents had to tell their children that it wasn’t safe to go swimming.

With around 100 million sharks killed each year, in Madagascar people’s fears are now focused on the survival of the vanishing species.

A country so drought-stricken at one end, and malnourished at the other, they struggle to keep up with the ever-changing climate and extreme weather conditions.

Should you swim with whale sharks in the Philippines?

During the tourist season, more than 1,500 sightseers descend each day on Oslob, a town of 30,000 on the island of Cebu. Tourism based on interacting with the world’s largest fish has taken off since beginning there in 2011. The town’s industry is now worth more than $1m a year.

In the 1990s, however, up to 800 whale sharks were slaughtered and traded from Filipino coastal towns into the Asian market, according to the WWF. Regional demand had given rise to a commercially targeted fishery industry, rapidly spreading from the Philippines to India.

An average-sized animal – they can weigh as much as 34 tonnes – is worth about $250,000 at the end of the market trail in China or Taiwan, where consumers pay up to $16 for a kilo of meat and up to $744 for a fin. Locals and environmentalists are trying to put the message across that these majestic animals are worth more alive than they are dead, as tourists will pay more to see them and interact with them.

Somaliland: A parched earth

Somaliland’s harshest drought is decimating the herder way of life and displacing thousands.  Swaths of Somaliland, a fragile, internationally unrecognised nation-state in the Horn of Africa, have been racked by one of the harshest droughts in two decades, which is destroying livelihoods and pushing families into destitution.

Across three fractured territories that the international community still recognises as Somalia – Somaliland, Puntland and South Central – aid groups warn that a combination of protracted drought and sudden heavy rainfall brought on by  El Nino  weather patterns this year will probably push 855,000 people close to catastrophe in 2016.

In Somaliland’s Awdal region, traditional rains – known locally as Gu and Deyr – which should occur regularly though the year and serve to replenish water reserves and rejuvenate grazing pasture, have failed for several consecutive years.

Livestock production is the backbone of Somaliland’s economy. About 60 percent of the population practise some form of pastoralism or depend on animal products, primarily because the arid regional climate allows for few alternative livelihoods.

Eighty percent of Somaliland’s  export income  is generated from sales of sheep, goats, cattle and camel. This, however, is in danger as the extreme drought and weather conditions are killing off the backbone of their economy.

Source: Al Jazeera