Climate adaptation

Climate change refugees – the human impact

Asia is most affected


Major coastal cities and/or areas with major river deltas where dense populations live and agriculture is productive are most at risk from sea level rise. Most of these areas are in Asia.


Population, area and economy affected by a 1 m sea level rise


Hugo Ahlenius, UNEP/GRID-Arendal


According to the United Nations Environment Program UNEP, "Even for today's socio-economic conditions, both regionally and globally, large numbers of people and significant economic activity are exposed to sea-level rise. The densely populated megadeltas are especially vulnerable to sea-level rise.

More than 1 million people living in the Ganges- Brahmaputra, Mekong and Nile deltas will be directly affected simply if current rates of sea level rise continue to 2050 and there is no adaptation. More than 50 000 people are likely to be directly impacted in each of a further nine deltas, and more than 5000 in each of a further 12 deltas.

Some 75 per cent of the population affected live on the Asian megadeltas and deltas, with a large proportion of the remainder living on deltas in Africa. These impacts would increase dramatically with accelerated sea level rise."

Impact closer to home


The Pacific includes the smallest and lowest lying nations in the world. These nations have a high population density, which means they are extremely vulnerable to sea level rise.

Many Pacific nations are already feeling the effects of sea-level rise. Without immediate action, these problems will become widespread throughout the Asia-Pacific region, including Australia.


  • Food
    Rising sea levels cause king tides, spring tides and sometimes high tides that increasingly wash through the crop gardens in island communities. Saltwater intrusion reduces food production and has already affected communal crop gardens on six of Tuvalu's eight islands.
  • Water
    People living on coral atolls rely on a thin layer of fresh groundwater that sits atop the saltwater lens. These freshwater reserves are threatened by reduced precipitation rates from changes in climate, as well as sea-level rise.
  • Infrastructure and land loss
    The Tuvaluan Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Mr. Lagitupu Tuilimu, stated in 2001 that scientists have predicted countries like Tuvalu will be totally submerged within around fifty years. Coastal roads, bridges and plantations are already at risk. In Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands, the inhabitants were forced to build sea walls to protect existing infrastructure.
  • Increase in diseases
    Warmer surface temperatures will compound the problems of sea-level rise by encouraging the spread of disease. The highlands of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands were previously too cold for mosquitoes to survive but with rising temperatures, there have been reports of malaria. Cholera is also a concern with unexpected outbreaks in the Federated States of Micronesia and Marshall Islands over recent years.

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