A certain class of refugee would bridge the gap between something that is man-made and something that is an uninhabitable disaster worthy of refugee relief. The Love Canal Controversy is the perfect argument for this function. Love Canal, a subset within Niagara Falls, New York, was intended as a model community and hospitable home for its residents, but belying its cute name, it was really a toxic waste dump disguised as a town.
The initial plans for the municipality called for the development of groups of houses and parks that would stand as shining examples of a residential community as well as the namesake canal before Mr. William Love, the developer, ran out of funding and the site became a chemical dump. In time, though, the Niagara Falls population began to expand, and in need to acquire land, residential officials bought the ground above the site, despite the possibility of toxic chemicals underneath. Upon discovery of numerous health defects and positive tests for toxins, the site was declared to be in state of emergency, and evacuation of all resident was ordered.
The move to help refugees then, in this case, was to evacuate the town and contain the extent of the contamination. Refugee relief came in the form of state and government funds used to reimburse the town residents and help refugees of Love Canal. The Love Canal fiasco, aside from being an environmental health and policy planning wake-up call, also set the precedent for the declaration of an environmental disaster area and expanded the idea that environmental causes could be used to determine refugee status in the public consciousness.
Certain landmark natural disasterrefugeesHurricane Katrina Other times, though, the events of a natural disaster will set a nation or territory back, and ultimately, cause it to lose out on opportunities to grow in comparison to another entity. The city of San Francisco suffered this fate when it came to the earthquake of 1906, one of the deadliest natural disasters in American history, and the greatest loss of life based on a natural disaster in Californian history.
The earthquake, a seismic event occurring along the San Andreas Fault, was of a magnitude over seven, and was particularly damaging for the fact that so many fires erupted from ignition of the broken gas lines, and even more were created by the attempts of firefighters to use dynamite to level buildings (ironically, to try to control the string of flammable material) and the absence of needed water conduits after ruptures in the mains. Over three quarters of the city was effectively destroyed, and obviously, there is the aforementioned casualty rate to consider, but perhaps the greatest loss of the city was in terms of long-term economics.
The percentage of displaced refugees, who were in fact evacuees, from the 1906 earthquake comprised more than fifty percent of the city, and given the choice, a good deal of those displaced refugee evacuees relocated to other California cities.
In addition, displaced refugee housing was put up subsequent to the extinction of the fires by the Army, providing refugee for tens of thousands of displaced refugees. To bring the point back, though, the damage had been done to San Francisco, literally and figuratively. With the displaced refugee efflux from the ruins of the city, its livelihood and growth was stunted. To be sure, it would have to take a few steps backward to rebuild and move forward. In the interim, and despite the fact the city has recovered to developed an image that gives off vibes of cultural significance, it would be Los Angeles that would become the center of commerce in the West.
However, the silver lining of the story is that San Francisco was rebuilt fairly quickly after the quake, and while there were so many displaced refugees from the utter destruction of the buildings, the idea that the federal government would come to the aid of its displaced refugee citizens with subsidized housing was vaguely progressive in spite of being a relief effort. Plus, even if Los Angeles ascended to great heights in the unofficial race to be the biggest city, the earthquake proverbially washed away San Francisco’s corruption and essentially started it with a clean slate.
Often times, with an earthquake or other natural disaster, the majority of the damage will be assumed to be with the initial force of the main event, as it was with the recent earthquake that devastated the city of Port-au-Prince and the surrounding areas in a matter of minutes, perhaps even seconds for some of the more structurally deficient buildings.
However, as was the case of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and even the Indian Ocean earthquake of 2005, the initial earthquake may have been the precipitating phenomenon for the destruction that ensued, but the bulk of the damage was incurred through collateral means and may even better recall the event to future generations. In terms of the latter, the whole chain of events was set in motion not by an earthquake above sea level (as the name “earthquake implies”) but the immense power of a 9.0-magnitude underwater earthquake that occurred on a fault off the coast of Indonesia in the Indian Ocean, which actually served to alter the rotation of the planet Earth as a whole.
This triggered a huge set of tsunami waves that was unable to be detected, owing to the unpredictability of earthquakes using current methods, the high population density of the impact zone and the fact a network to detect the tsunami waves was not viable given the poor economy of the region. All told, over 200,000 people died as a result of the quake-tsunami connection, and myriad others were forced to relocate as a result of the flooding.
As regards response to the refugees and lawful operations, the damage was so profound that even organizations who tend to more narrowly focus on political refugees, as people displaced by natural disasters are usually referred to by the term “displaced persons,” offered their services in relief efforts.
As for how to physically house the survivors of the tsunami, foreign governments and relief efforts alike phrased their relief efforts in terms of refugee status. The U.S. government radically altered its position on the acquisition of refugees and displaced persons, and Indonesia, Thailand and other countries saw the creation of refugee camps that provided aid and shelter for their nationals that worked in tandem with humanitarian organizations.
The Great Famine of Ireland was a stimulus for mass immigration to America in the 1850’s and 1860’s. The famine was in direct relation to the spread of potato blight across the potato crop in Ireland.
The effect on personal economies and human lives was exacerbated by an over dependence on the potato crop and the socioeconomic policies put in place. Ultimately, this dark period in Ireland’s history claimed over a million lives and put a tremendous dent in the indigenous Irish population. This loss of numbers in Ireland is further explained by strong emigration trends to the United States and elsewhere.
The effects of Irish refugee movement would also have enduring applications to today’s immigration law, as nativist reactions to these new settlers prompted reformers to establish quotas for immigrant groups and demanding minimum standards for literacy, effectively ending America’s “open door” policy on immigration.
While translations to the United States and immigration practices have yielded large numbers of legal and illegal Latin American immigrants to the country, it would be expected that asylum seekers, refugees and other displaced persons have contributed to the multicultural face of America in tangible ways.
In response to the Vargas Tragedy of 1999, then, Venezuelan nationals can be expected to make the pilgrimage to the “New World,” despite existing anti-American policies, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s rejection of American aid, and the attempts of the Venezuelan government to keep its citizens in the country. The Vargas Tragedy was a result of unusually high amounts of rainfall in a region already plagued by a tendency to flood, eventually giving way to mudslides that destroyed roads, buildings and other structures, in essence wiping out whole towns and displacing the majority of the state of Vargas.
President Chávez’s solution plan was indeed multifaceted. Included in his stratagem were permanent relocation to the interior of the country, temporary refugee camps erected by federal and relief services and even a unique means of protecting refugees, an “adoption” program by where able Venezuelan families could take in internally displaced victims for a time. Perhaps unfortunately, this call to arms for Venezuelans also involved a rejection of American aid in the form of the Armed Forces before they could arrive, illustrating the influence of politics on attitudes toward refugees.
The Love Canal Disaster and “Man-Made” Natural Refugees
The Love Canal disaster was, in fact, not a natural disaster per sé, as there was neither a massive loss of life nor were the events beyond human control. Problems arose when the original plans for a residential community with expansive parks and working canal were scrapped due to lack of funding, leaving the door open for local chemical companies to dump their waste in the unused site. Eventually, though, the need for the land was apparent, and despite toxicity levels in the ground beneath the community, schools and other residential functions were allowed to be built.
This led to serious health complications in a number of residents, and upon full realization of the gravity of the issue, the Love Canal site was put in a state of emergency by the President, the first disaster of an environmental nature to earn that dubious honor. The Love Canal disaster serves as another example of refugee status, at least in practical terms, within one’s own country, and paved the way for international recognition of environmental dangers as a catalyst for refugee migration.
Responses to the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 can be seen as reminiscent of the progressive spirit as it manifested in the United States and somewhat of a silver, or rather, golden lining for the city’s inhabitants. To be certain, San Francisco was hurt in the short term and long term in terms of material losses. Surely, the physical devastation of the city can not be ignored, as over two-thirds of the city succumbed to fires created in the wake of the initial 7.0-plus-magnitude earthquake along the San Andreas Fault.
Several thousands were killed by the quake and the fires, yet more were displaced by the carnage, and millions of dollars of damage was calculated to have been realized from the disaster. Moreover, as the city needed to be rebuilt, San Francisco was unable to continue to be a major factor in commerce on the West Coast for some time, redirecting business to Los Angeles and ensuring that the latter would be the premier destination in California. Still, for those who did not flee to nearby cities, there were hope and a new legacy to be found.
The U.S. government cared for its in-state refugees with the Army’s erection of makeshift (but structurally sound) refugee housing during the rebuilding process, evoking images of progressive reform to come. Furthermore, to San Francisco’s benefit, the rebuilding process allowed for a revival away from the corrupt influences of the local powers-that-be beforehand, and led to the formation of a new identity for the city as a place of cultural significance.
The tendency of most to regard natural disaster is to approach it by thinking only in terms of those dramatic events that occur within a moment’s notice and are obvious attention-grabbers and financial drains. Even so, some disasters, such as famine, take time to develop but may be just as deadly or affect just as many people. Such is the case with climate change and other environmental trends that lend themselves to be producers of large numbers of displaced persons. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR
With many natural disasterspropertyThis kind of refugee news may well be in our future, and in increasingly more frequent intervals, as a result of man’s hand in the shaping of the world environment. Scientific researchers, in tandem with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – the UNHCR
Still, while the UNHCR has full recognition of the gravity of these problems, it still has no formal recognition of the environmental or climate refugee. News that comes from the UNHCR concerning refugees almost uniformly corresponds to those who have been estranged from their countries as a result of war or other form of political unrest.
Thus, while the UNHCR might be a valid way to obtain refugee news as a result of United Nations protocol, it is not a means of helping displaced people who are likewise forcibly removed from their homes. Considering how many people this currently affects and how trends may continue to be exacerbated, environmental climate change refugee status is something important enough that it would be a good measure with which to be more specific. By being an unclassified displaced person today, unfortunately, an individual may not even qualify for legal status as a resident between different governments. Either UNHCR must revise its terms, or the application for human aid may come too late to those who need it.