'Climate Refugees': Groups Elaborate on Victim Rights, Church Aid Efforts

(Photo: Praphulla Shrestha/ Oxfam Australia/ Irin News)An Oxfam water engineer in Papua New Guinea works with local communities to set up temporary water catchments during a recent cholera outbreak in 2009.

A group representatives from various organizations convened by the World Council of Churches and other groups this week heard about the challenges of resettling "Climate Refugees" in the Pacific and adaptation and disaster-risk reduction in Central America at a recent conference.

The discussions in Bossey, Switzerland from May 22 to 23 elaborated on developments in understanding the rights of victims of climate change at United Nations sponsored conferences, the WCC said in a statement.

Participants – which included ecumenical, non-governmental and international organizations - analyzed progress made by the international community since 2010.

Case studies presented involved situations in Bangladesh, India and Africa, and were used to illustrate the "vulnerabilities and capabilities" of communities affected by climate change.

Partners helping organize the event included the Pacific Council of Churches and the German development agency Bread for the World.

A session at the conference focused on how churches are accompanying communities uprooted by the impact of climate change, engaging in and calling for renewed commitment in providing pastoral care, capacity building – raising the ability for people to address challenges - and advocacy efforts.

Saber Hossain Chowdry a member of Bangladesh's parliament said addressing the issue is an "imperative" for his country, according to the WCC.

In addition, discussions also included the ethical and moral grounds for effective responses to displacement caused by environmental disasters.

"The cry for climate justice from victims in different regions shows that climate change is already a threat to vulnerable communities," said Dr. Guillermo Kerber, WCC program executive director on climate change.

"Together with their ethical insights, churches and faith-based communities highlight the theological and spiritual dimensions of the climate crisis, accompanying resilient communities in their adaptation strategies," he said.

Appropriate terminology should not prevent actions in responding to the plight of "climate refugees," a report of a working group stated.

Participants said they would share reflections from the conference with their communities and adapt the conclusions in their advocacy work.

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