Climate Refugees

Spotlight: Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka ranked second on the 2017 Global Climate Risk Index for countries most affected by the climate crisis.350 The most frequent natural hazards impacting the country include floods, droughts, and cyclones.351 Mountains located in the south-central region of the country divide the island into distinctive regions—the central highlands, the plains, and the coast—and influence the distribution of rainfall. Thus, while parts of the island nation must cope with higher susceptibility to droughts, other regions that experience monsoons are vulnerable to increased flooding.352

Sri Lanka locally produces 85 percent of its food, and so either type of climate impact carries with it the potential to devastate the country’s food and agricultural sector.353 Such threats are already clear. For example, from 2016 to 2017, a severe drought—the worst drought in 40 years— devastated 45 percent of the paddy crop, the country’s main staple food, and caused 900,000 people to be food insecure.354 Likewise, in 2018, 100,000 people were displaced due to disasters, and of those, 75,000 were displaced by severe flooding triggered by monsoon weather conditions355 and landslides.356 A year prior in 2017, 500,000 people were displaced by flooding and 200 people were killed by landslides.357

Projected climate changes that will have significant impacts for Sri Lanka include increased temperature,358 water and food insecurity, changes in rainfall patterns, increased severity and frequency of extreme weather events, and sea-level rise.359 These effects will force people to migrate from inland and coastal regions alike in search of work and safe living conditions.360 For example, rising sea levels will continue to have a negative impact on major industries such as fishing and tourism.361

Altogether, changes in average weather resulting from the climate crisis are predicted to reduce income in Sri Lanka by 10 percent by 2050,362 and by the middle of the century, an estimated 19 million people in Sri Lanka will be living in moderate to severe climate hotspots.363 What’s more, vector-borne diseases, such as dengue fever, as well as rodent and waterborne diseases, are projected to have increased health risks connected to the climate crisis and its varying impacts.364

The climate crisis often interacts with other dynamics internal to a region or nation. In May 2009, after two and a half decades of violent conflict between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamil populations, the Sri Lankan Civil War came to an end.365 The civil war, which began in 1983, was fueled by postcolonial policies established during Sri Lanka’s colonial era that limited social and economic rights to the country’s minority Tamil citizenry.366 A decade after the civil war, the country is grappling with the deep traumas brought forth by prolonged violence, and many of the systemic issues that led to the civil war remain unresolved.367

As part of the country’s efforts to move forward from the devastation of its past, the Sri Lankan government has committed to building a “sustainable and resilient society”368 by working toward achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals and mitigating the effects of the climate crisis.369 The Sri Lankan government has identified the climate crisis as “a major threat looming over the economic and social development of the country,” with the country becoming increasingly vulnerable to more intense and extreme climate events.370

Moving toward their sustainability goals, the Sri Lankan government has submitted their National Adaptation Plan for Climate Change Impacts in 2016,371 ratified and signed the Paris Agreement, and established strategies for the country’s Nationally Determined Contributions.372 In 2018, Sri Lanka also submitted a Voluntary National Review on the Status of Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.373 Notably, Sri Lanka is heavily engaged in mangrove conservation efforts and will become the first nation in history to replant and preserve all of its mangrove forests in an effort to protect the ecosystem.374 The mangrove restoration project stems from lessons learned from the tsunami in 2004, for it became especially clear that mangroves are able to absorb the height and intensity of big waves, as well as sequester and store carbon. Thus, such efforts serve as a preventative measure to protect coastlines, human life, and resources from the impact of future tsunamis.375

In addition to the Sri Lankan government’s efforts to mitigate climate crisis impacts, Sri Lanka will need external support from the international community, including financial and technical assistance, in order to successfully implement the actions as outlined in the country’s national adaptation plan.376

  • 350. David Eckstein, Marie-Lena Hutfils, and Maik Winges, Global Climate Risk Index 2019, (Bonn: Germanwatch e.V., 2018), 5, accessed June 29, 2019, https:// germanwatch.org/sites/germanwatch.org/files/Global%20Climate%20Risk%20Index%202019_2.pdf.
  • 351. Justin Ginnetti and Chris Lavell, The Risk of Disaster-Induced Displacement in South Asia, (Geneva: Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 2015), 43, accessed June 29, 2019, http://www.internal-displacement.org/sites/default/files/publications/do....
  • 352. Ginnetti and Lavell, The Risk of Disaster, 44.
  • 353. Mohamed Esham et al., “Climate change and food insecurity: a Sri Lankan perspective,” Springer, (April 5, 2017), accessed June 29, 2019, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/315794101_Climate_change_ and_food_security_A_Sri_Lankan_perspective#pf11.
  • 354. Cristina Coslet and Swithun Goodbody, Special Report: FAO/WFP Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission to Sri Lanka, (Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN World Food Programme, 2017), 7, accessed June 29, 2019, http://www.fao.org/3/ai7450e.pdf.
  • 355. “Sri Lanka” Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, accessed June 29, 2019, http://www.internal-displacement.org/countries/sri-lanka.
  • 356. “Sri Lanka: Floods and Landslides—May 2018,” reliefweb, accessed June 29, 2019, https://reliefweb.int/ disaster/fl-2018-000060-lka.
  • 357. "Call for Just Solutions for Climate Induced Migration in Asia Pacific,” Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific, (2017), 4, accessed June 28, 2019, https://www.foei. org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/FOE_Japan_UntoldStoriesReport_web_2pages.pdf.
  • 358. “Building Sri Lanka’s Resilience to Climate Change,” World Bank, (September 21, 2018), accessed June 29, 2019, https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/ feature/2018/09/21/building-sri-lankas-resilience-toclimate-change.
  • 359. National Adaptation Plan for Climate Change Impacts in Sri Lanka 2016–2025, (Sri Lanka: Climate Change Secretariat, Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, 2016), 30, accessed June 20, 2019, https://www4.unfccc.int/sites/NAPC/Documents%20 NAP/National%20Reports/National%20Adaptation%20 Plan%20of%20Sri%20Lanka.pdf.
  • 360. Voluntary National Review on the Status of Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, (Sri Lanka: Ministry of Sustainable Development, Wildlife and Regional Development, 2018), 93, accessed June 29, 2019, https:// sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/ 19677FINAL_SriLankaVNR_Report_30Jun2018.pdf.
  • 361. Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, National Adaptation, 82.
  • 362. Muthukumara Mani et al., South Asia’s Hotspots: The Impact of Temperature and Precipitation Changes on Living Standards, (Washington, DC: World Bank Group, 2018), 8, accessed June 29, 2019, https:// openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/28723/9781464811555.pdf.
  • 363. The World Bank, “Building Sri Lanka’s Resilience.”
  • 364. Review of Climate Change and Health Activities in Sri Lanka, (New Delhi: World Health Organization, 2015), 4, accessed June 29, 2019, http://www.searo.who.int/srilanka/ Climate Refugees: The Climate Crisis and Rights Denied 82 documents/review_of_climate_change_srilanka.pdf.
  • 365. Sumit Ganguly, “Ending the Sri Lankan Civil War,” Journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, 147, No. 1, (2018), 78–89, accessed June 30, 2019, https://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/full/10.1162/ DAED_a_00475.
  • 366. Ganguly, “Ending the Sri Lankan Civil War.”
  • 367. “The fear inside us: Confronting Sri Lanka’s past,” AlJazeera, (February 4, 2018), accessed June 30, 2019, https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/fear-confronting-sri-lanka-18....
  • 368. “Sri Lanka,” Sustainable Development Goals Knowledge Platform, (2018), accessed June 30, 2019, https:// sustainabledevelopment.un.org/memberstates/srilanka
  • 369. Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, National Adaptation Plan, 20.
  • 370. Ministry of Sustainable Development, Wildlife and Regional Development, Voluntary National Review, 93.
  • 371. Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, National Adaptation Plan.
  • 372. “Nationally Determined Contributions,” Battaramulla, Sri Lanka: Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, (September 2016), https://www4.unfccc. int/sites/ndcstaging/PublishedDocuments/Sri%20 Lanka%20First/NDCs%20of%20Sri%20Lanka.pdf.
  • 373. Ministry of Sustainable Development, Wildlife and Regional Development, Voluntary National Review .
  • 374. “Sri Lanka Mangrove Conservation Project,” UN Climate Change, accessed June 29, 2019, https://unfccc.int/climate-action/momentum-for-change/planetary-health/s...
  • 375. “Sri Lanka’s trauma of tsunami turns into a defense for tomorrow,” reliefweb, (August 10, 2018), accessed June 29, 2019, https://reliefweb.int/report/sri-lanka/ sri-lankas-trauma-tsunami-turns-defence-tomorrow.
  • 376. Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, National Adaptation Plan, 5.