Vulnerable communities at high risk of displacement confront the dilemma of whether to move or not to move. Compounding the weight of this question are the variety and multi-layered drivers of displacement. In addition to conflict, climate change impacts have heightened the vulnerability of communities.
In 2022, there was a 45% increase of people internally displaced by disasters according to the 2023 Global Report on Internal Displacement by the Internal Disaster Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and about 84% of refugees and asylum seekers come from climate vulnerable countries as reported by the UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR).
Sea level rise is a major risk in Southeast Asia where about 77% live in coastlines. According to a report in Nature Climate Change, the combined factors of internal climate variability and climate change increase sea level rise by 50%.
These trends indicate that “to move or not to move” is not the question anymore. Vulnerable communities in fringes of island and coastal communities, and marginalized urban populations squeezed into tiny, risk-prone spaces must move.
The question now is: how do we assist in the successful resettlement of at-risk communities and how do we enable those that are unable to resettle? This is the challenge for policy makers, civil society and the vulnerable communities themselves.
In the December 2023 Diakonia issue of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Asia Pacific on Care for Our Common Home, these difficult challenges facing island and coastal communities in the region and their efforts to face the challenge are featured.
Through the five-year Research and Advocacy for Climate Policy and Action (RACPA) project launched in early 2023 with the generous support of Caritas Australia and in partnership with the Environmental Science for Social Change (ESSC) in the Philippines and the Institute for Social Research, Democracy, and Social Justice (Percik) in Indonesia, three coastal and island communities in Indonesia and the Philippines are accompanied as they navigate sea-level rise and other adverse impacts of human-induced climate change. Drawing on participatory research approaches, RACPA puts at the center the local, living knowledge of these communities as they seek to cultivate resilience.
Also featured are the adaptive responses of upland, urban, island and coastal communities to climate change impacts through JRS Asia Pacific and Jesuit Conference Asia Pacific (JCAP) projects such as 40-4-40. Growing trees as their collective action to mitigate damage and promote care of their environment has paved the way for communities to strengthen their solidarity and care for their common home. In Indonesia, one coastal community is mitigating rob (king tide) by building a seawall of 4,000 mangrove trees. This campaign helps raise awareness, care and action from community members who are otherwise focused only on their daily material needs. In Cambodia, people from various religious persuasions draw from their shared faith in the sacredness of creation to nurture their environment and channel the grace for inner conversion.
With the communities served, the response of JRS Asia Pacific is to move forward. These actions may be regarded as small ripples in a big ocean that is the climate crisis. However, JRS Asia Pacific pushes onwards inspired by Pope Francis’ exhortation in Laudate Deum that through these mindful cultural changes, “we are helping to bring about large processes of transformation rising from deep within society…. As a result, along with indispensable political decisions, we would be making progress along the way to genuine care for one another.”
Louie Bacomo is the Director of Jesuit Refugee Service-Asia Pacific.