Last year was the worst year on record for refugees. The number of people fleeing war and persecution jumped to nearly 60 million, the highest figure since the United Nations’ refugee agency began keeping records 50 years ago, and that doesn’t even include people driven from their homes by poverty, gang violence or natural disasters.
Smugglers are preying on refugees, social services in poor Middle Eastern and African countries have been stretched to the limit, and Europe and Australia are turning back exiles at their borders. António Guterres, U.N. high commissioner for refugees, acknowledged that relief agencies are overwhelmed. «We don’t have the capacity and we don’t have the resources to support all the victims of conflict around the world to provide them with the very minimal level of protection and assistance,» he told reporters at a mid-June press conference.
By all accounts, it’s a mess. But it’s likely only a harbinger of things to come if industrialized nations don’t dramatically reduce carbon emissions. Drought and desertification already ruin thousands of square miles of productive land annually in China and a number of African countries, while rising sea levels triggered by warmer global temperatures could eventually force tens if not hundreds of millions of people from their coastal homes.