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'Climate change refugees are already a reality'

© Cecile Cau, AFP | Archival picture shows people after a tropical storm in the Madagascar port city of Taomasina in 2002

Text by Joseph BAMAT , special correspondent at COP 21 conference

Latest update : 2015-12-01

The threat of a future tide of refugees is being cited often by world leaders as they push for a new global pact at the COP21 climate summit in Paris. But on some islands in the Indian Ocean, climate refugees are already a reality.

Speaking at the start of the key UN conference at Le Bourget conference centre north of the capital on Monday, French President François Hollande repeated dire warnings for the future of mankind if leaders fail to strike a deal within the next two weeks.

"Global warming is a harbinger of conflict, like the clouds ahead of a storm," Hollande said, striking a dramatic tone. "It will unleash more refugees on the roads than wars. Countries may not be able to satisfy the needs of their populations, with the risk of famines, a massive exodus from rural areas, and violent conflicts over water sources".

Those catastrophic scenarios are nevertheless already part of the daily struggle of hundreds of thousands of people, according to the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a regional group that covers 5.5 million square kilometres, and 26 million people in the Indian Ocean.

"'Refugees' may be a new catch-word, but climate refugees are already a reality. We have been calling them "affected populations" for years," said Toky Rasoloarimani, a native of Madagascar who is representing AOSIS at the COP 21 conference.

"There are people on the southwestern coast of Madagascar who have to rebuild their homes almost every year," Rasoloarimani told FRANCE 24, evoking worsening coastline erosion and desert-like droughts.

Diving deeper

Rasoloarimani said that the worst effects of global warming were not so much on the displacement of people, but troubling changes to fishing, a vital source of income for the region. "We are the world's second largest area for tuna fishing, but there are ever fewer fish and just as many fishermen".

She said climate change was forcing tuna migrations deeper underwater, and thus forcing fishermen to go deeper in search for the precious commodity, sometimes with devastating effects to coral reefs.

Another effect of warming waters and changing weather were cyclones, which Rasoloarimani claims have been increasingly common over the past 30 years.

While securing COP 21 funds for the small island nations at the frontline of climate change was important, Rasoloarimani said advocacy efforts were her group's main concern. She said there were wide gaps between populations when it came to conservation efforts and storm safety measures.

Date created : 2015-11-30


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