Asia and Pacific churches speak up for those displaced by climate change

By agency reporter
November 12, 2009

Resettlement of people displaced by the consequences of climate change was highlighted as a major concern for churches at a gathering of ecumenical representatives from Asia and the Pacific region.

According to scientific estimates, by 2050 as many as 200 million people may become permanently displaced by the effects of climate change, including rising sea levels, heavier floods, and more intense droughts. South East Asia, small Caribbean and Pacific islands and large coastal cities will be amongst the more affected.

Meeting from 2-6 November 2009 in Chiang Mai, Thailand, some 75 ecumenical representatives committed themselves to "support Oceania churches' initiatives and advocacy efforts on resettlement plans, adaptation and reparations to small island states", which have been "rendered victims by ecological and climate change".

The Chiang Mai Declaration issued by the ecumenical gathering emphasizes the need to develop "the framework for a new Convention or Protocol on Resettlement to cater for forced ecological migrants", and concrete plans "to ensure respect for and protection of the rights of forced climate migrants".

Participants at the Consultation on Poverty, Wealth and Ecology in Asia and the Pacific were welcomed by Chiang Mai governor Mr. Amornpan Nimanan. The event was organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Christian Conference of Asia and the Pacific Conference of Churches.

The consultation is part of the WCC AGAPE (Alternative to Economic Globalization Addressing Peoples and Earth) process. It was preceded by hearings of youth, women and indigenous peoples.

Asia, whose vulnerability to extreme weather events is aggravated by poverty, showcases the links between poverty, wealth and ecology, according to a report presented at the consultation by the IBON Foundation, a think-tank based in the Philippines.

The report describes a context of grave ecological and economic crisis. More than half of the Third World's poor live in Asia. Even though it is generally viewed as a dynamic and promising place to invest, Asia is struggling with extreme poverty, thus reducing the capacity of Asians to cope with climate changes.

"Our region's wealth is being siphoned off in the form of corporate profits squeezed from cheap, predominantly female, labour; external debt payments to international financial institutions made at the expense of massive cuts in social expenditures; the privatization and commodification of land; and exports of people, lumber and other 'raw materials' from poor to wealthier nations", the Chiang Mai Declaration says.

"We listened with heavy hearts to stories of: Burmese migrant workers fleeing political and economic oppression only to encounter other forms of oppression in Thailand; tens of thousands of farmer suicides in India; Asian students falling into debt because of spiralling tuition fees; women in the Mekong region trafficked into prostitution", participants stated in the declaration.

"Poverty is the result of exploitation and monopoly, and exploitation is coupled with violence", said Jonathan Sta. Rosa, a young participant from the Philippines, describing how economic globalization impacts poor people in his country. Jonathan's brother Isaias, a United Methodist pastor and a member of a peasant's movement, was killed in 2006 in one of thousands of extrajudicial killings taking place in Philippines.

"In Asia and the Pacific, neoliberal globalization has taken a stronger hold in urban centres especially with the young people. The pressure to consume, to own and to conform is enormous", said Liza Lamis, a communications consultant with the CCA.

"The interlinked economic and ecological crises are manifestations of a larger ethical, moral and spiritual crisis", said participants at the Chiang Mai gathering. Therefore what is needed is "nothing less than a radical spiritual renewal […] founded on the Biblical imperatives of God's preferential option for the marginalized (justice) and the sacredness of all Creation (sustainability)".

As "genuine faith and spirituality entail action", the Chiang Mai Declaration calls for "radical and collective responses, not only from Asia and Oceania, but also from the worldwide faith community".

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