Following Hurricane Dorian´s devastation in the Bahamas, thousands had to leave the few things they had and move away, like thousands of Puerto Ricans did nearly two years ago when the powerful Hurricane María devastated Puerto Rico.
Displacements are another significant effect of climate change, which threatens to impact more and more lives until we take decisive actions to stop it. It is estimated that about 10,000 residents of the Gran Bahamas and Abaco Islands had to move to the capital, Nassau, and other destinations in the aftermath of the second most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocen; 4,000 people arrived in Florida this week. This proportion is similar to the percentage of Puerto Ricans fleeing the island after María, -between 4 percent and 6 percent had to relocate-.
As an island in a hurricane zone, Puerto Rico has to prepare for this new reality that disrupts routines and destabilizes the economy. Climate change is no longer a distant theory; it is a new context already reconfiguring our societies. Confronting climate change requires deep political, social and individual changes.
Political instability, wars, and famine have led to mass displacements for decades. Today, many people are forced to migrate, sometimes even without IDs, since natural disasters might have destroyed their homes and all their belongings. That is the reality of Bahamians who have been left undocumented and unprotected and that has made it difficult for them to enter the United States, their closest neighbor.
This scenario seems to further complicate as xenophobia, racism, and other intolerances spread.
This new type of migrants has been called environmental or climate refugees. International organizations estimate that 265 million people have been displaced by disasters between 2008 and 2018 worldwide. Half of them were forced to move because of floods, a common risk on the island. Thirty-four percent were victims of storms and 12 percent fled destruction caused by earthquakes and tsunamis. Also, forest fires, extreme temperatures or droughts that have turned lakes into deserts led to migration.
According to experts, the severity of the disaster and communities' social and economic resilience capacities determine how long displacements may last. In any case, these people face the same challenges or difficulties as those fleeing their countries because of wars, repression or violence. They usually suffer rejection and hunger; some are exposed to human trafficking or are segregated in precarious facilities.
Leaving home, and a familiar environment is traumatic. Planning Puerto Rico's future must result in new, safer communities and citizens with the skills to overcome these challenges.
International entitiesaffirm that identifying risks allows to adopt proactive policies and investment must be directed to reduce the risks identified. Planning and building a better-prepared Puerto Rico should consider high-risk areas that result in homelessness and displacements, vulnerability, response capacity, and environmental factors, among other factors.
To make people less vulnerable, it is also urgent to develop social measures that create equity. At the individual level, it is important to develop openness and understanding of the new social dynamics that this reality brings.
Beyond their diverse causes, migrations that end up in tragedies on the southern European coast, and that of Bahamians or our Latin American brothers on the Mexican border, make us reflect now two years after hurricanes Irma and María struck the island and triggered a mass exodus of Puerto Ricans. In addition to preparing ourselves to reduce risks, climate change forces us to recognize ourselves as human beings; all of us, aspiring and equally deserving dignified lives and peaceful coexistence.