The world may be nothing without people. But soon, it might be nothing with people.
An unprecedented number of people are currently leaving their homes in seek of safety, both in and outside of Europe. Civil war and social unrest has prevented living rooms of family time and eradicated the smells of home cooked foods. Houses where children trod their first steps have been abandoned, because the necessity to survive has taken over.
According to the U.N, diaspora on this level has not been seen since World War II, with numbers of displaced people reaching 11 million this month. If you ask a refugee of the land they have been pushed from, the most frequent answer is Syria.
It is the countries surrounding Syria that are taking the biggest hit. In Lebanon, every 1 in 5 people are Syrian refugees, and Turkey is currently hosting nearly 2 million people. Each of them has fallen victim to the worst civil war and humanitarian disaster of our time.
The challenges facing the international community have received widespread media coverage over recent weeks; however, there are other consequences that need to be considered. Accommodating for this mass of people has an environmental effect, which is being neglected.
Refugee settlements often occur in environmentally sensitive areas, and it has been shown that large camps have a greater negative effect than a series of smaller camps hosting the same number of people. There are many questions that arise from this; what happens to human waste? What sustainable source of resources do these people have to rely on? What are the long-term effects of the current temporary safety measures? Refugees are being helped so they can survive in a world we currently cannot maintain.
The issue of human waste is one that can have the most immediate negative effect. If it is not well regulated by efficient systems, the degradation of water quality that results, will affect the health of a large group of people. In these situations, where many people are housed within a close proximity, the already high risk of infectious disease is increased.
However, it should also be considered that changes in water quality have a detrimental influence on eco systems. Poor quality water that is soaked through the ground has a knock on effect for the eco systems that normally include the biodiversity needed to produce plants and crops for food.
Further, many will have little option other than to drink this water untreated. This can be due to deforestation in surrounding areas that means people have to walk further for fuel wood in order to boil water, and also cook food. This problem quickly leads to malnutrition as well as disease. In addition, inadequate shelter can result, as wood is used for supporting the plastic shelter sheets that are provided.
The host area also suffers. As resources become increasingly scarce, the construction of local people becomes inhibited and food and fuel prices inevitably rise. The possible solution of creating more, smaller camps would mean that fuel wood collection is spread over a less concentrated area, and eco systems may experience a less drastic change of conditions.
Provision of quicker cooking food, such as maize, therefore requiring less fuel, can also help. Nonetheless, the effects of deforestation are longer lasting than these solutions, and spread further than the local land. Climate change is also an issue that is resting heavy on the shoulders of governments around the world.
Environmental impacts are of great importance. Not only in terms of managing the mass movement of people, but in order to reduce the need to flee a once loved homeland in the first place. Reports have shown that a key trigger for the 2011 Syrian uprising was the 2007-2010 drought, which was the worst drought in instrumental history.
It had a huge impact on a land that is usually incredibly fertile. This drought was most likely caused, or at least enhanced, by climate change. Widespread crop failure and therefore migration of farming families contributed to the cause of conflict. This is by no means suggesting that the human impact on the environment has been the sole contributor to such social unrest, as cultural and economic factors cannot be over looked. However, it is definitely a perspective that needs consideration. We have reached this detrimental level with an average global temperature rise of just 1 degree Celsius; a fact made more tragic by a large percentage of damaging emissions and fuel consumption happening at the hand of economically developed countries, with better scientific education.
It is no wonder then, that the often poorer countries who will be most affected by climate change are asking for at least $200 billion to create more efficient and sustainable systems. As this article and the research behind it shows, the downside of not creating the necessary action plan to stop the environmental changes happening around us, do come full circle.
The refugees, who are affected first hand and bare the brunt of the problem, then through no fault of their own cause challenges for the environments and economies of surrounding countries. Whether it is the people fleeing, or the citizens of the host countries, it always seems to be those who should be protected that suffer most. The relationship between the environment and wider socio-economic problems needs to be given greater attention if refugee crises are ever to become a thing of the past. The relationship between people and their world needs to be built.