On 22 March 2023, IOM and the UN Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (OHRLLS) organized a side event in the context of the UN 2023 Water Conference, titled “Water Extremes at the Feet of Displaced People: Averting, Minimizing and Addressing Loss & Damage”, with the co-sponsorship of the European Union, Portugal, Malta and the United Arab Emirates.
The objective of this event was to enable a dialogue between State representatives from different regions on the linkages between human mobility and water in the context of disasters, climate change and environmental degradation, and to identify concrete ways to advance progress on averting, minimizing and addressing related Loss and Damage.
This side-event put forward the voices of Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) who are at the forefront of water related disasters, and the innovative and sustainable solutions to avert, minimize, and address loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, as they impact both water resources and human mobility.
In her welcoming remarks, Ms. Rabab Fatima, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, noted that countries that have contributed least to the crisis are also the ones suffering from disproportionate impacts, with the examples of floods in Bangladesh, devastating storms in Malawi or rising sea levels in the least developed countries. In terms of Loss and Damage, she noted that SIDS have lost $153 billion due to weather, climate and water related hazards in the last 50 years. In 2020, more than 8.5 million people living in LDCs were displaced in the context of disasters. Droughts are the deadliest and floods the costliest hazard in this group of countries. In the Caribbean, an estimated 5.14 million new internal displacements happened in the context of disasters in the last ten years. In the Pacific, an estimated 57,000 people are displaced by tropical storms each year. USG Fatima ended her remarks by urging Member States to invest in early warning systems, establish a Loss and Damage Fund, and ensure the implementation of the Doha Programme of Action.
Ms. Sinafekesh Girma Wolde, member of the African Youth Parliament for Water and NEWAVE early-stage researcher, then stressed the need for a holistic approach that considers the needs of all people, including the most vulnerable. Ms. Wolde shared that one way to address this challenge is to improve access to water and sanitation, which will help to improve the health and well-being of people who are displaced. She posited that it is also important to address the underlying causes of water extremes, as this will help to reduce the risk of future disasters and support people in rebuilding their lives. She called on the UN and Members States to engage young people in efforts to find sustainable solutions.
In the panel discussions, Mr. Zaheed Farooque, MP and Honorable State Minister for Water Resources of Bangladesh, expressed that Bangladesh is witnessing shocking manifestations of climate change impacting weather events. He noted that migration and mobility are emerging as natural forms of adaptation strategy, and in many cases the only option. Mr. Farooque warned that lower water availability in the context of climate change may contribute to the internal migration of 13.3 million people by 2050 in Bangladesh. The country has identified displacement in the context of climate change as a major concern and has set goals to develop climate smart cities and climate resilient agriculture for food, nutrition, and livelihood security.
Speaking on Tuvalu’s recent experiences, Dr. Nese Ituaso-Conway, Secretary of the Water Department of Tuvalu, shared that the country is facing severe water security challenges in the context of climate change, as it contributes to rising sea levels, saltwater intrusion, and changing rainfall patterns. The impacts of climate change are already being felt in the country, as saltwater intrusion is making it difficult for farmers to grow crops. She expressed worry regarding the related range of environmental and socio-economic challenges, including impacts on migration and displacement. Tuvalu is calling on the international community to help it address the challenges of climate change and to support Tuvalu on Loss and Damage.
Ms. Ana Paula Zacarias, Permanent Representative of Portugal to the United Nations, underscored the importance of partnerships to address human mobility in the context of disasters, climate change and environmental degradation together and supporting the most vulnerable countries. Ms. Zacarias emphasized the importance of investing in adaptation measures, supporting women empowerment, capacity building, education, and financing. She shared the example of the use of hybrid financing, through pooled funds set up by Portugal in Mozambique to respond to post cyclone needs in Mozambique following cyclones Idai and Kenneth. She also further illustrated Portugal’s commitment by sharing that the State has provided over half a million euros to the migration Multi-Partner Trust Fund.
Mr. Júlio César Freire De Morais, Permanent Representative of Cabo Verde to the United Nations, discussed the importance of transformative solutions and stressed the urgent need for an assertive commitment and stronger partnership to speed up climate action, in terms of adaptation and resilience. He further underlined the need for more innovative financial mechanisms that don’t burden the debt issue, for adaptive capacity building, and for more knowledge and technology transfer.
Finally, Ms. Marissa Castro, Director of borders and international transboundary waters at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, highlighted that Bolivia is facing a period of alarming droughts. The climate crisis in Bolivia is exacerbating the water stress affecting the country. Many municipalities affected are in transboundary regions Bolivia shares with neighboring countries. More than 1 million have been impacted by disasters and many have been evacuated from disaster sites. Bolivia is focusing its efforts on climate adaptation. Ms. Castro called on the international community to provide more financial support to countries most impacted, who contributed minimally to the current climate crisis. She called for a permanent intergovernmental water mechanism to be created in the United Nations and for the issue to be discussed on a yearly basis.
Reflections from the panelists culminated in the conclusion that seven key points are needed to address impacts on human mobility and water in the context of disasters, climate change and environmental degradation, and to advance progress on averting, minimizing and addressing related Loss and Damage: (1) more integration between different early warning systems for water security; (2) more education on water conservation and how to use water more efficiently.; (3) more data sharing on water resources; (4) more capacity building for countries that need it; (5) linking water and oceans related processes; (6) sharing information more effectively at the grassroots level; and (7) cooperation not only between countries but between sectors (private and public) and civil society. This event enabled the announcement of a commitment (IOM’s Commitments to the Water Action Agenda) to address impacts on human mobility and water in the context of disasters, climate change and environmental degradation, and to advance progress on averting, minimizing and addressing related Loss and Damage. This commitment will support the acceleration of SDG6 in regard to both innovation and governance and supports innovative, sustainable and cooperative disaster-resilient water resources management in perspective with human mobility.
The event concluded with the call to ensure that all good practices identified find support to be further replicated. There was also a call to ensure that the messages from this event on human mobility and water in the context of disasters, climate change and environmental degradation should be taken forward in the next policy forums, including the Secretary General Climate Ambition Summit, COP28, the Third United Nations Conference on the Landlocked Developing Countries and the Fourth International Conference on SIDS.
By Cecilia Zerbini de Carvalho Martins, IOM MECR HQ, and Abdirahman Olow, IOM New York
Further information on the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) engagement can be found on the following webpage: Human Mobility at the UN 2023 Water Conference