Natural disasters caused by climate change are seriously threatening people's lives. At the summit meeting of the Group of Eight major countries, set to open Monday in Toyakocho, Hokkaido, world leaders will discuss assistance measures to support environmentally vulnerable areas in developing countries and new international rules to protect human lives.
In this three-part series, we will focus on global environmental problems expected to be taken up at the G-8 meeting.
"I still can hear my wife and children screaming for help," said a 32-year-old man from Labutta in Myanmar's Irrawaddy Division.
The man, a member of the Karen minority group, is among about 300 people who fled the Irrawaddy Delta after it was battered by Cyclone Nargis, which left about 140,000 people dead and missing. After crossing the Thai-Myanmar border with the support of religious organizations, most of these 300 people settled around Mae Sot in northwestern Thailand.
It was shortly after 8 p.m. on May 2, when water began flowing into the man's house. The water quickly rose above the height of a person and swallowed up his family members.
The man floundered desperately in the dim light, trying to hold onto his children. However, the children gradually lost their strength and were swept away.
Although he managed to pull one of his offspring back, the child had already drowned. His wife, who had been holding their baby, also quickly disappeared from his sight.
The man managed to grasp hold of some bamboo, which he clung onto until the following morning.
Nargis advanced eastward along the coastal delta region, over rivers, other waterways and villages surrounded by paddy fields.
The cyclone initially hit the land with wind speeds of up to 194 kph, which later accelerated to a top speed of 238 kph.
About 60 percent of those who died and went missing were concentrated in the Labutta area, and most of the victims are thought to have been women and children.
Natural disasters increasing
The fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that accelerated global warming would raise seawater temperatures and intensify tropical cyclones, which might result in aggravated cyclones and hurricanes--predictions that appear to be coming true.
The number of victims affected by extreme weather events, such as droughts, floods and rainstorms, has climbed steeply in recent years. The overwhelming number of people affected by such natural disasters live in developing countries.
According to the latest issue of the U.N. Development Program's Human Development Report, about 262 million people were affected by natural disasters between 2002 and 2004, about 3.2 times the figure seen two decades ago.
The International Organization for Migration, an intragovernmental body supporting refugees and immigrants, stated in its report this year that various climate change-induced natural disasters likely will raise the number of "climate migrants" or "climate refugees" to 200 million by 2050.
The report cited natural disasters including a 2005 typhoon in Papua New Guinea that forced the resettlement of 1,000 people and a delta in a Ganges River tributary in India that was submerged in 2006, leaving several thousand people homeless.
It went on to say that in a worst-case scenario, large areas of southern China, South Asia and the Sahelian region of sub-Saharan Africa could become uninhabitable on a permanent basis. The report also cited current estimates for climate refugees, ranging between 25 million and 1 billion by 2050.
International assistance needed
The number of migrants is rising so quickly that it might destabilize the world.
The IOM's general meeting in November defined "climate refugees" in a broader sense to include people who have resettled within a country. The organization called for building a new international framework designed to support climate refugees separately from refugees who have been forced to leave their homes or countries because of war or to escape political persecution.
Massive funds are needed to save human lives and restore infrastructure.
Last year, the World Bank played a central role in establishing the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility. Sixteen countries in the Caribbean region joined the plan, under which countries are asked to pay insurance premiums of 200,000 dollars to 4.5 million dollars a year. When struck by a hurricane or other natural disasters, the countries will be entitled to receive up to 125 million dollars in insurance immediately after the events--even before actual damage has been verified. The system is designed to enable affected countries to deal swiftly with the problems.
A similar system currently is under consideration for the Asia-Pacific region.
The G-8 summit meeting also plans to discuss Climate Investment Funds, a scheme jointly proposed by Japan, Britain and the United States. The time is ripe for world leaders to look at different kinds of international assistance, and not just the provision of funds.
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