How climate change is causing a refugee crisis | ActionAid UK

In parts of Africa and Asia, a quiet refugee crisis is unfolding. Today an estimated 60 million people are either living as refugees or have been forced from their homes - the highest number in history. When we think of refugees, we often think of war. And the conflict in Syria and elsewhere has turned millions of people into refugees, but many people have also been left without a home because of the threats of El Niño and climate change.

1-year-old refugee baby girl in Bangaldesh holds onto her mother's skirt, next to their flood-proof home built to withstand climate change
Janratul is only 12 months old, but she and her family are climate refugees; forced to abandon their home in Bangladesh because of flooding

Increasingly extreme and erratic weather is tearing apart communities and destabilising entire regions. Spiking food prices and failing agriculture are forcing ever more people off their traditional lands and into already overcrowded cities. 

In the Horn of Africa, families in Somaliland are desperately searching for the water they need to survive. El Niño has left the earth scorched and dry. The crops are failing and the animals are dying.

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In Bangladesh, rivers are breaking their banks and the sea is washing over once fertile fields. Families are struggling to find the dry land they need to live.

Somaliland: where there is no water

El Niño has stopped the rains that communities here in Somaliland rely on to grow food and water their animals.

Rahma, a 40-year-old mother of two children, only has 10 sheep left out of her flock of 30. As drought conditions bite deep, she is struggling to keep them alive and only able to feed her teenage sons a single meal a day.

In western Somaliland, mother of two Rahma only has 10 sheep left out of her flock of 30 because of the drought

Rahma eats less so her children can eat. But hunger is hurting Rahma, both physically and emotionally. She feels desperate when her sons ask for more food and she doesn’t have any. 

If her remaining sheep die, Rahma may have to leave her village and become a refugee, seeking food and shelter in one of Somaliland’s many internally displaced persons camps. It would mean leaving the world she has always known; her friends, neighbours, home and farm land.

"We could become refugees if we lose all our livestock. We’d go to another place…to areas around the border of Somaliland," Rahma told us.

When you are a refugee, you will never get the same life as you had before. It wouldn’t be the same as you got while living here on the farms and with livestock, you won’t get that anymore. 

"But at least when you are a refugee ([in an internally displaced people’s camp] an organisation will give you something to eat."

Rahma went on: “If it gets desperate, I’ll think about becoming a refugee.”

Bangladesh: where the water consumes the land

The hundreds of rivers of Bangladesh are constantly shifting and swelling, sometimes collapsing entire villages. Climate change means sea levels are rising - poisonous salt water is seeping inland, flooding fields and killing crops.

Fatema is 21 and has two children. Her family are climate migrants. Their village home and crops were destroyed by flooding, forcing them to build a house on the only available space – a river embankment. 

Fatema & Janratul

This young family lived in horrible conditions, with dirty water around their feet. Six-month-old Reeath became sick with diarrhoea because of the unclean water. 

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And when that shelter was also swept away by rising water, they moved into a rented jute hut. When the floodwater finally subsided, Fatema’s farmland was saturated with sand and completely ruined. They had no way to grow food.

How we’re helping climate refugees

Thanks to the help of ActionAid supporters we were able to help Fatema’s community. We built a flood-proof village nearby. The most vulnerable families from Fatema's village were relocated to homes built on a raised mud plinth that withstands flooding.

Each of the families were given a cow, a house with solar panels and a small allotment to grow fruits and vegetables. They are safe from the rising waters and have the chance to build a better life.

Fatema & Reeath

Fatema says: “Before, we were just struggling to stay alive, so how would I have had the chance to dream about my son’s future? After moving here, I can dream a bit about his future.”

How you can help climate refugees

Climate change and El Niño are forcing people from their homes. Communities are breaking down and it is women and girls who bear the heaviest burden as they struggle to keep their families together and gather the food they need to survive.

Women like Fatema and Rahma have a right to a safe home and a family. They shouldn’t have to leave behind their lives, their homes and everything they know to become refugees living in temporary camps, or to rely on handfuls of grain just to stay alive.

Help us work with vulnerable familes to make sure they have enough food and can build a better future. Even a small donation can make all the difference. 

Donate to our Hunger Hurts appeal now