Population Growth, Climate Change and Refugees

In this article I will argue that Population growth, Climate change and the number of Refugees seeking a bolt hole in so called developed countries are all intertwined and interdependent. It is also clear the response of the developed world is inappropriate and ineffective.

Population Growth                                                   

World population is forecast to increase from seven billion today, up from about two billion before the Second World War, to more than nine billion by 2050 (Ref: United Nations). Almost all of the growth will come from the ‘undeveloped’ world. As an example take Kenya, where I was born and still know well. At independence in 1963 the population was about nine million, today, fifty years later it is nearer fifty million representing a growth of some five hundred percent. No country can or can be expected to provide basic infrastructure such as roads schools and hospitals to cope with such population growth and nor have they. What makes the situation worse is the culture of corruption in the country; it started after independence and has continued unabated under successive Governments (ref: It’s Our Turn to Eat by Michaela Wrong). This applies to Kenya and most other countries in Africa (The shining exception is Botswana, again a country I have lived in and know well).

Examples of Climate Change fuelling conflict

Syria.  Climate change is fuelling conflict throughout the world: one of the reasons for the bloody conflict in Syria is that climate change caused a massive and prolonged drought in the north of the country which the Government was unable or unwilling to do anything about, such as providing welfare relief (Ref: Years of Living Dangerously TV series currently showing on SBS). Obviously there are other issues driving this conflict, but it is clear that climate change created the spark that resulted in the conflagration which has now engulfed the whole country and has allowed for the development of the extremist IS, which now occupies parts of Syria and northern Iraq.

Kenya. Again I am using Kenya as an example. Somali tribesmen have never accepted the Colonial boundary between the two countries, and the border is impossible to police anyway. They have always grazed their cattle on the Kenya side of the border and continue to do so in increasing numbers. With poor rains and the growth of population in Somalia (now about 10million up from 3 million in 1960) more and more Somalis are crossing the border into Kenya and are spreading far and wide, encroaching into areas that have been traditionally occupied by the Maasai, increasing the potential for conflict. Somalia is a ‘failed state’ and has been for nearly thirty years, and there is an ongoing low-level war between Al-Shabab (an Al-Qaeda offshoot) in Somalia and the Kenyan military, which is likely to escalate and has already resulted in atrocities such as the raid on an up market shopping centre in Nairobi in 2013..

Algeria. Only three percent of its area is arable and the expectation is that the Country will be seriously impacted by climate change, reducing that area even further (Ref: Institute for Security Studies). The Country’s large, growing population (39 million-Ref: Wikipedia) and proximity to Europe means that more and more Algerians will be seeing migration to Europe whether legally or illegally as a real option.

The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has predicted that there will be seventeen countries in Africa that will become ‘failed states’ by 2030 mainly as a result of warming climates.

It is quite clear that growing populations of all countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, and the rampant corruption in many of those countries is going to cause more and more pressure from refugees wishing to find a safe haven, mainly in Europe, but also Australia.

According to the United Nations, today, there are fifty one million people round the world officially classed as refugees, and the number is growing at some twenty thousand per day- desperate people looking for somewhere to go.

All the effort and rhetoric in the developed world is focussed on trying to stop the flood of refugees about to engulf us all, and we are trying to do it once people have already committed themselves to the increasingly hazardous journey to find a billet in the developed world. The old adage of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted comes to mind. Examples of this approach abound: The Europeans have significantly reduced their capacity to rescue people from drowning in the Mediterranean, people who are often trying to reach Europe in leaky unseaworthy boats; The Australian Government has implemented a policy of  ‘Stopping The Boats’; the US continues to strengthen its border fence with Mexico, and so on. In the long run this effort is likely to be an entirely fruitless exercise. If the developed world doesn’t make a concerted effort, now, to prevent people from making the decision to migrate from their overcrowded, poverty stricken counties to the developed world, then, as we can already see, the flood of refugees will continue to grow and grow and grow and the developed world as we know it will be overwhelmed.

In summary therefore there is an on-going and massive population increase in the undeveloped world. (China is excluded from this of course because of its ‘one child policy’). The elite’s in most of the countries of the undeveloped world will continue to fuel the fires of corruption, at best marginalising large swathes of their populations, at worst creating huge conflicts- e.g. Syria. This will result in increasing numbers of people trying somehow to migrate to the developed world, creating what can only be described as a Tsunami of desperate unhappy people.  Inexorably the world will continue to warm up, exacerbating the marginalisation of large swathes of population in already overpopulated parts of the world.  

Aid Ineffectiveness

What should we be doing instead? The developed world provides a massive amount of aid to the undeveloped world; is this not having any effect?

The answer is no, it is not. The aid provided to the undeveloped world is often wasted and ineffective. There is a view, backed up by substantial evidence, that the most heavily aided countries are being destroyed by aid and that their GDP’s are actually falling as a result of aid (reference: Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo). Ms Moyo argues that aid often destroys existing industries, and fuels corruption because however the recipient country behaves the aid continues to flow.

The following table, of a few African countries, illustrates the point:

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In vast contrast to the heavily aided countries in Africa the least aided is Botswana which enjoys a GDP per capita of some US$ 16000, compared to South Africa, potentially a much richer country,  US$11000, Kenya  US$1800 and Zimbabwe US$$600 ( By comparison The USA rate is US$ 52000, and Britain US$ 38000)  ref: aneki.com).

It is notable that the higher the corruption levels the lower the GDP per capita.

Enormous sums are available and are being spent on aid (approximately 150 to 160 Billion US$ per annum- Ref: Wikipedia)). So the funds exist. It has to be in everybody’s best interests to redirect these funds to better use:

Perhaps aid money could be better spent in helping countries with high population growth rates to put in place policies that help to reduce those rates of growth. Apart from helping to reduce the number of refugees, a policy that limits the rate of population growth will enable those countries to start to provide the services that local people will value such as Schools, Hospitals and Roads. Persuading the Roman Catholic Church to participate in such a programme is also critical.

We also know that developing countries or states with high literacy rates among women, have low birth rates (e.g. The Indian State of Kerala).

The IPCC has projected that Africa will be the continent worst affected by climate change. This in turn will fuel the flood of refugees wanting to migrate to the developed world. So it is in the absolute best interests of the developed world to make sure there are internationally enforceable treaties, mitigating climate change effects, which should hopefully be put into place at the Paris summit later this year.

In conclusion, as we can all see from the almost daily reports in the news media there is an ever growing pool of desperate people trying to migrate to the developed world. This is something the developed world is more and more unable and reluctant to deal with and accommodate.

Nothing the developed world is currently doing is going to have any material effect on this flow of refugees.

Guy Hallowes