Politics of Poverty

Exploring climate migration, those affected, and how you can make a difference

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Hasina Begum, 35, washes her clothes by the river in Char Atra, Bangladesh. Begum has had to move several times because of river erosion. Photo: Dan Chung/Oxfam

Oxfam is participating in the Global Climate Action Summit to put a face to the millions of people who are forced to flee their homes due to climate change, and help find solutions to climate-changed related migration.

Climate change doesn’t usually make the evening news or the front pages in the United States. But for so many of the world’s poor, it’s the story: threatening livelihoods, driving conflict, and making life harder (and often) hotter.

But it doesn’t need to be that way.

This week, the Global Climate Action Summit will draw some ten thousand people to San Francisco to address one big question: Can we be doing more, and if so, what? The summit is an important opportunity for everyone—from elected leaders to CEOs to NGOs—to gather, share ideas, and squarely confront the profound moral challenge that is climate change.

From unpredictable monsoon rains in the Asian Pacific, to extreme droughts in East Africa, and raging wildfires in the US, we are witnessing the devastating impacts of climate change.—No corner of the globe is immune to its effects, as it acts as a driver for greater inequality and pushes more people into poverty.

You might be wondering, why is Oxfam joining the summit, and what do we bring to the table?

Oxfam is there to underscore the fact that uplifting and championing the poor must remain our focus in all things. Any solution to climate change that leaves behind vulnerable people isn’t a real solution. Lowering emissions and embracing the newest renewable technologies are essential―but without meaningful strategies for implementation and financial support, they’re only half the answer. When it comes to climate, just solutions are those that don’t leave anyone behind.

We know that at present, too many people are being left behind. The statistics give only a glimpse into the current dire situation.

Over 23 million people—more than the entire population of Florida—were displaced by extreme weather disasters in 2016 alone. Another 140 million people will likely be displaced as a result of climate change by 2050. That’s the equivalent of nearly half of America’s population being forced to leave their homes.

It’s easy to focus on these numbers without understanding the gravity of the livelihoods they represent, and stories of the millions impacted. Often, it’s the people who have done the least to contribute to climate change who are the most affected.

People like Hasina know this reality all too well. Hasina is from Bangladesh and her home was washed away during a particularly powerful flood.

“I struggled so hard to raise up the land, but the river eroded it away, says Hasina. “The flood takes place more now [than] before. In the past, the flood used to come later in the year. Now [it] comes in earlier and faster. When it comes, the water leaves much later on…When I hear about river erosion, I cannot express what to do. Crying out [to God] doesn’t help at all and I cry by myself. If it happens again what are we going to do, how will we survive? It destroys everything.”

To share Hasina’s story and more, Oxfam is hosting an event open to the public, on September 12 at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in downtown San Francisco. Climate Journeys: Tales of Displacement across a Changing Planet explores climate migration by looking beyond the statistics and bringing the people who are directly impacted to the forefront of the discussion on climate change. It will discuss how millions of people like Hasina are forced to make difficult and often impossible life choices due to climate change and what concrete actions we can do to create real change in this space. If you are not able to join Oxfam in San Francisco this week, you can still take action by making sure you vote for congressional representatives in November that commit to combatting climate change, and upholding America’s legacy of welcoming and supporting refugees here at home and around the world.

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