The vulnerable countries

G Magazine

Which countries are most at risk of becoming climate refugees?


A refugee from Chad at a camp near the UNAMID base in Mukvar, West Darfur, Sudan on October 18, 2008.

Credit: Susan Schulman/Getty Images

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The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), predicts that climate change will become the biggest driver of population displacements within the not-too-distant future - as many as between 50 and 200 million people could have been forced to move by 2050. G looks into which countries are the most at risk of becoming climate refugees.


One of the most disaster-prone countries in the world (particularly vulnerable to tropical cyclones), it is expected that this country will be one of the worst affected by sea-level rise caused by climate change. A long coastline combined with flat, deltaic land that floods regularly, a 1.5 metre rise would affect 17 million people (15 percent of the population) and 16 percent of the total land area.


In 2008, tropical cyclone Nargis decimated this country. The complex political situation here means that there’s often little or no preparation for weather disasters; this country won’t cope well with further changes to the climate.


Hurricane Mitch caused significant damage to Honduras in 1998. There was some preparedness that came through indigenous farming methods, meaning some of the worst destruction was avoided. Hurricane Mitch left 1.5 million people homeless and took the lives of 7,000 Hondurans.


This is one of the most affected countries by extreme weather events such as storms and flooding. Even though Tyhoon Hagupit in 2008 didn’t directly hit Vietnam, 30,000 houses were damaged or destroyed by the torrential rain it caused. It’s estimated that 15 million Vietnamese people would be severely affected by a change in sea level of one metre.


Temperatures across Central America are expected to rise by 1°C – 3°C and rainfall will decrease by 25 percent by 2070. The usually adaptive indigenous Miskitos people are faced with increasingly unpredictable weather patterns that are already causing droughts, hurricanes and unseasonal flooding.


Without considering geological factors such as earthquakes, Haiti was in a bad state due to extreme weather even before the 2009 quake. There was Hurricane Gordon (1994), Hurricane Georges (1998) and Hurricane Jeanne (2004) , which were followed by a long period of drought exacerbating an already desperate situation.


Another of the most common countries to be hit by extreme weather events, partially due to it’s large size, but also due to exposure and geographic location to extreme weather events. Vulnerable to tropical cyclones and storm surges, there were over 3 million weather-related deaths between 1990 and 2008, most of them caused by cyclonic storms.


Every couple of years the southern coastline gets pummeled with a tropical cyclone. This country hasn’t been hit by a big category 5 cyclone since 1979, but without a strong infrastructure, infectious diseases are expected to become a problem here.


Regularly affected by extreme weather events (mainly typhoons and storms that cause floods), this archipelago of 7,107 islands stretches across an exposed position on the western edge of the Pacific Ocean. There’s a risk of severe damage if the coral reefs that act as a buffer to its extensive coastline are damaged by ocean acidification and rising sea levels.


In 2008 Tyhoon Hagupit cut an epic swathe through China. With wind speeds of up to 220 km/hour, torrential rain and landslides, there were severe losses to agriculture with 118,600 km² of crops damaged. The aggressive typhoon damaged and destroyed 485,000 houses and killed 129 people.

These rankings are according to the Germanwatch Global Climate Risk Index, which assess the most affected countries by extreme weather events from 1990 to 2008. Additional data was gathered from the IUCN.