Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Climate change fuelling conflict, increased refugees: UN

ABC News Online, Posted Wed Jun 18, 2008 1:45pm AEST

UNHCR High Commissioner Antonio Guterres says increased competition for water resources is leading to more conflict in Darfur. (AFP: Jose Cendon)

The fountains in Trafalgar Square are surrounded by plastic tents, aid agency four-wheel drives and a frighteningly real looking ruin of a house, complete with smouldering remains and torn clothing.

The mock refugee camp in the centre of London is the UN Refugee agency's publicity push and has captured the attention of passing school children.

"Their house is getting blown up for no reason and the people are dying," one student says.

"I've been in the tent and I saw this guy's house was burnt and all he has left was the clothes he was wearing.

"I think we take for granted what we get 'cause they don't get nothing."

A child's view is often the most eye-opening and it is a grim outlook shared by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

The UNHCR says climate change is expected to drive increasing numbers of people from their homes as more conflicts are fuelled by water scarcity and a lack of food.

They also say the number of displaced people in the world is at an unprecedented level. Last year the total number jumped to just over 37 million, an increase of more than three million.

The former Portuguese prime minister, Antonio Guterres, is now the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees.

He says climate change is an ever-growing problem, fuelling conflict and thus indirectly fuelling the growth in refugee numbers, as in the case of Darfur.

"In Darfur, in the past years rainfall has always been decreasing, population has been growing," Mr Guterres said.

"There is an increased competition for water resources. We need a political solution for Darfur, but that solution will not be stable, if at the same time we don't solve the underlying problems of dwindling water resources.

"What climate change is doing is in many circumstances reducing resources, increasing the competition for resources and because of that, triggering or amplifying conflicts."

Mr Guterres says he has no doubt climate change will contribute more to conflict and thus to the number of refugees.

"The combination of climate change, increased prices, increased population, all those things make life more difficult, make competition for resources tougher and amplify conflicts everywhere," he said.

The UNHCR says nearly half the world's displaced people (three million) are Afghan while two million are Iraqi. The numbers in Iraq increased by 600,000 last year.

"The numbers of refugees are not increasing at the present moment. Indeed, the numbers have more or less stabilised in the recent past," Mr Guterres said.

"But there was a period after the Samarra incidents in which we have very meaningful outflow of Iraqis from the country into the neighbouring countries.

"I think we should pay tribute to the extreme generosity of Syria and Jordan that have been coping with a huge impact of the Iraqi refugees in their economies, in their societies and granting them protection even in these very difficult circumstances."

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