By Ali Abbasi

Water crisis and the phenomenon of migration of people with disabilities

December 3, 2018

The two phenomena of migration and water have always been closely linked historically, as tribes in Africa, the Middle East and Asia have been migrating extensively in search of food and water for their livestock. 

Generally, migrations occur based on different social-economic, political, cultural and natural motives. Currently, the main reasons which cause migration, especially in developing countries, are environmental crisis and more specifically, water crisis. 

Therefore, based on their motives, migrants move from village to city, city to city, and country to country. While the demand for drinking water has increased in many parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, access to drinking water has decreased in these regions. 

About two billion people are suffering from lack of access to clean water and more than two billion people are suffering from lack of enough medical and sanitary facilities in the world. The amount of the renewable water that the Earth is getting annually is unequal in terms of time and place and do not correlate with the distribution of population and water needs of the societies. 

There are several reasons which force people to migrate. Among major reasons one may include weak state and weakness in territorial management and water resources, which are often neglected. While phenomena such as drought and climate change simply get into the analyses and are known as main reasons.

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), 244 million people, equal to 3.3% of the world’s population, have been living out of their own country since 2015. Growing migration of population as one of the consequences of climate change is one of the major crises in our century. 

At the moment, total population of migrants is estimated to be one billion which has raised considerable concerns for international community and national states in various areas including food supply, access to medical and sanitary facilities, and in higher levels, security concerns. 

Inappropriate living conditions resulting from growing shortage of water and its access may force people to migrate. Furthermore, due to the climate change, water shortage and its consequences are causing problems more than before. That is to say, climate change and the change in rainfall pattern can increase flood, drought, and soil erosion in hot and dry regions of the world.

One of the less considered issues in the analysis of water crisis is the effect of water crisis on the people with disabilities and the problems concerning their obligatory migration as a result of shortages of healthy water. 

According to the statistics of the WHO, there are about one billion people with disabilities with different levels in the world. In other words, about 15% of the population of the world suffer from a physical, mental, or sensory disability. Disabled individuals face several obstacles in order to have effective participation in the society. According to human rights point of view, disability is a phenomenon resulting from socio-political structure and its main focus on the concept of right has caused disability to be regarded as an identity element of humans and declares that many of these obstacles are due to misconceptions about the disability itself rather than circumstances and practical difficulties existing in societies.

Although there are not any official statistics about the percentage of the population of disabled migrants in the world’s migration, a glance at the countries dealing with water crisis shows that this crisis makes life conditions even more difficult for disabled individuals and even in some cases has caused an increase in communities with disabilities. 

More specifically, it can be stated that in recent years some parts of the world, especially the Middle Eastern countries including Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq have been involved in a full-blooded war that many believe have roots in growing shortages of water in these countries. 

For example, the research paper on the economy in Syria by Chatham House in January 2015, and also REACH topical report in September 2015 show that long term drought which lasted over 5 years in Syria, resulted in reduced crops, increased unemployment, and emigration. It is estimated that about 1.5 million individuals have migrated to cities from villages in search for job opportunities; locations which were the main areas of the early rebellion in March 2011. 

According to the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 4.5 million people have escaped from Syria and 6.5 million have become homeless inside the country. A war which has added the number of people with disabilities, many of who were obliged to migrate. A migration which itself, according to the International Organization for Migration, increases physical and mental vulnerability of individuals.

Therefore, the effects of water crisis on people with disabilities can be divided into three categories: legal, security (national and international), and economic.

One considerable issue in terms of legal effect is the right to live independently. Naturally, every one of us need social interaction that can have several forms and may cause certain attachments. These attachments are in fact unavoidable. They can be economic, cultural, communicative, etc. 

According to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), speaking of the right of people with disabilities for independent life, it means freedom of choice, the right to choose freely how and where people with disabilities live and to what extent they have interaction with their surrounding community. This right also means that people with disabilities must have access to all facilities and standards necessary for an independent life. 

One of the key components of the right for an independent life is definitely the right to make decisions independently. This inherent right is directly trampled underfoot through the occurrence of this crisis and the person with disability literally will not have any control over his life.

From the security perspective, it is noteworthy that major reasons for migration and taking refuge include weak state and weakness in territorial management and water resources. Water shortages may lead to protest and riot. As in 1992, disagreement between two southern provinces in India ended up in a serious riot during which 25 were killed and many were maimed. A main issue to consider here is the existence of fragile state in underdeveloped countries that cannot manage environmental crisis like water; and due to desolation of some regions and concentration of population in other parts, security crisis and reduction of infrastructural power of the state might be held responsible. 

From this perspective, reduction of the government’s infrastructural power means a decline in the state ability to perform its basic functions, i.e. guaranteeing security, redistribution of resources, and preparing the essential services. This means vulnerability of the society, especially doubled vulnerability of people with disabilities, in absence of these services.

However, since migration on the basis of environmental situation involves the mass of people, it is considered an internal issue rather than international; because the mass of people are not able to migrate. As mentioned earlier, if water crisis gets pervasive, it can end up in riot and war and border control may not be possible anymore which is itself another crisis for host countries. 

Due to their special physical and mental conditions and relatively high treatment costs, disabled migrants may become involved in terrorist groups and criminal gangs in order to provide an income and stay alive, and they might be abused. Basically, this type of migration caused by natural disasters is involuntary and irreversible. It can result in security, cultural-social, and environmental threats, not only for host countries, but it may also have long-term devastating consequences at international level.

Finally, in terms of economic effects, water crisis can directly affect economic processes and events. In other words, by water crisis, industries may face trouble to continue their business; as a result, production falls and many people lose their jobs. 

It is possible that a disabled person could be among the ones out of work, or that there is a disabled person in the families of these people. Naturally, finding a job for a person with disability is relatively more difficult. Furthermore, unemployment can be more expensive for people with disabilities than ordinary people, and it is even possible that the new job location lacks standard infrastructure for the life of these individuals in their new home

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