The final push for a climate deal at COP21 was ongoing as CRJ went to press. Meanwhile, rainfall of near biblical intensity had lashed many areas, including Sierra Leone, India, the UK and France.
The theme of this issue is water, including flooding, of course. Time and time again, our expensive defences built to protect communities and infrastructure seem to fail, our models and predictions become overwhelmed by ever more extreme climate events. As Patrick Lagadec has often stated: Are we fighting the last war?
And this is a controversial question, but one that needs to be asked: When do areas become too dangerous for human habitation? Should relocation – as a strategy of last resort – be discussed more widely? Last year, the San Remo consultation, organised by UNHCR, examined the issue of planned relocation owing to sudden onset disasters, acute environmental degradation and longer term effects of climate change. It found that those working on climate change adaptation frameworks are often unfamiliar with the experiences of resettling communities, whether as part of dam projects or resettling refugees in other countries. “The silos which characterise work on this issue are immense,” it said, which is worrying, given the virtually unimaginable long-term, generational, financial and human costs relocating vulnerable or untenable communities would entail.
It would take a brave – or possibly politically suicidal – government to tell large numbers of its citizens that it can no longer shield them from extreme climate events and that relocation is the least unattractive option.
In a draft document ahead of COP21, the UN proposed a climate change displacement co-ordination facility, to provide organised migration and planned relocation, as well as compensation to people fleeing rising sea levels, extreme weather and ruined agriculture. The reference was dropped from the draft.
But it is clear, though decidely unpalatable, that relocation will have to be considered in some areas and the duty of all those involved in emergency preparedness, mitigation and response is to familiarise themselves with existing experience and consequences, and consider how this could affect them, their roles and communities.