• Multilogue Collective

The Global Refugee Crisis: Urbanism for the Aftermath?

Updated: Sep 25, 2018

The world we live in refuses to accommodate

Into the white trash party, those who are late

And as the hosts refuse, to carry out the cans

The guests look away, as dump hits the fans

The world we live in has its own blinkered notion

Designs of suppression, beliefs of exclusion

Underneath the veils of freedom

Lies around the muddle

Beyond the spread of peace

Lies about the struggle

The Backdrop

The Syrian civil war has been the most devastating man-made tragedies in the post-world war history of the world. The aftermath of the war has been shared all over the internet, and in spite of a global outrage from many corners of the world, every so often, the social media is filled with distressing images of Syrian infants bearing the brunt of the war. The civil war has hitherto rendered more than half of its population feeble and unaided- in dire need of humanitarian assistance, as either refugees or internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Social Unrest, Dissent and Climate Change: Agents of the Civil War

The Syrian refugee crisis, which has largely been manufactured through the direct or indirect participation of various parties involved, ideologies and vested interests, finds its origins in the early years of the 21st century. Syria and its neighbouring states had experienced severe drying and draughts during the period between 2006-2010. The looming global warming destroyed most of the agricultural yield during this period and forced the population on the way to ‘distressed mass migration’ headed for the cities. The influx imposed added onus onto the already burdening Syrian cities from Iraqi refugees that came for asylum, following a full-scale Iraqi invasion by the United States. Thus, perfect conditions of social distress were soon established to pave way for the fateful social unrest that followed.

Improvised artillery observed in the Syrian civil war- 2016

The Arab spring of 2011 inspired the entire world, as it left the dictatorships falling, democracies shaking, and monarchies fearing all across the globe. The Syrian people have had their share of deep-seated grievances addressed to the incumbent regime, resolved to overthrow the status-quo, and what followed is history. The ‘leaders’ of the world took no time in converting the dissent into a tool to make Syria their proxy war zone. A weak regime with already collapsed neighbouring states soon found itself thrown to militant war-dogs that scavenged for whatever resources they could lay their hands on. With each passing day, the Syrian tragedy is becoming worse, and repeatedly reflecting the inability of humankind to co-exist in harmony and ecological continuity. The rebels and the regime continue to fight one another, hinging on petrodollar-based economic systems that continue to be a menace for the global well-being; as they push nature further to the fringe, and to a great extent, facilitate global socio-political unrest.

Why don’t we push our governments to dissociate themselves from, and denounce the actions of transgression; speak for the oppressed, and refuse to indulge in acts of crime against humanity?

The idea of climate change (and eventual distress-migration) playing a catalyst into the Syrian civil unrest is merely the tip of the iceberg.

“Mr President, Climate Change is real!”

People queuing up in Cape Town to fetch water for their daily usage.

South Africa’s fresh water has depleted to the point where the population has to restrict their water usage to a bare minimum. The Environmental Justice Foundation argues that the next two decades will witness mass migration trends from sub-Saharan Africa towards Europe, owing to excessive temperature-rise, and with a perilous dearth of agricultural activities and depletion of water resources; and ultimately- an increased food and water scarcity.

A girl stands amidst the graves of 70 children on the outskirts of Dadaab during their journey to relief camps. East Africa- 2011

Drought has left the cattle dead in Kenya- 2006

The existing state of affairs puts together a sorrowful picture. Europe is already coping with the influx of refugees, and many of the countries have closed their doors for their neighbours across the Mediterranean. This decade, the world has been unsuccessful in finding ways to rehabilitate the refugees without the fear of stigma, health hazards, assaults and undignified living conditions. It is not hard to guess what the ‘Climate Refugees’ of next decades have in store for them.

World Climate Refugee camp in Hannover, Germany- 2009

This decade, the world has been unsuccessful in finding ways to rehabilitate the refugees without the fear of stigma, health hazards, assaults and undignified living conditions. It is not hard to guess what the ‘Climate Refugees’ of next decades have in store for them.

The industrial dependence on oil and the rush to procure more and more of it has of late, resulted in heavy amounts of damage to the environment. India has its population living in a state of massive poverty. The receding glaciers and eventual rising sea levels have led the rivers of Bangladesh overflow and, over the years, made a million Bangladeshi inhabitants refugees to India. The increasing burden upon the Indian taxpayer has given a rise to an overall negative popular public opinion towards those refugees, and the absence of any state-policy to recognize these displaced ‘Climate Refugees' has resulted in their undignified living conditions, illegal means of livelihood and creation of a large-scale animosity and social unrest.

A 'Climate Refugees Procession' observed in Khulna, Bangladesh

"Allow Climate Refugees to migrate in developed countries"

Why do we not push our governments to recognize ‘Climate Refugees’ and provide them with similar humanitarian assistance and incentives as they do in the case of war-refugees?

Sustainable Urbanism: Where is the ‘pre-mitigation’?

Many of the on-going narratives talk about sustainable refugee housing and other allied infrastructures. While these moves are crucial to the current well-being of refugees, they are to be bracketed under ‘post-mitigation measures'. Regrettably, there seem to be no concrete measures to address pre-mitigation challenges and arrive at solutions that can be infused within popular cultures, governmental practices and public opinions.

Sustainable urbanism finds no place in shaping our cities. Sustainability has been reduced to a token to clear the dirt (read pollution) off our collective conscience (and make profits, of course). The global report on Internal displacement, 2017 suggested that around 20-24 million new people have been displaced worldwide as a result of climate-induced tragedies.

The anti-climate, anti-nature approach to urbanism:

The buildings we design consume 60% of our generated electricity, most of which are produced through fossil fuels; and for procuring which again, we engage in horrid war-mongering and kill our own kind.

The current urbanism paradigms focus on growth and expansion. The mass-scale demand for survival, sustenance, growth and comfort has ousted the idea of ‘natural balance’ in our habitats. Our cities have been excessively built with concrete. We replace our biodiversity with concrete jungles in a bid to cater to more needs within limited resources. Our industries are exploiting the water reserves. The buildings we design consume 60% of our generated electricity, most of which are produced through fossil fuels; and for procuring which again, we engage in horrid war-mongering and kill our own kind.

We have to understand the fact that sustainable urbanism is not merely designing with sustainable building materials, but it is a way of achieving sustainable individuality. A sustainable individuality is achieved through cherishing the ecological bond we all share with nature. It is the manifestation of compassion, restraint, responsibility, environmental sensitivity, and productivity into an individual human being.

Why do we not push our governments to include policies that promote inculcation of indigenous building knowledge systems into designing our habitat, thereby, making it more local and responsive to the climate?


Nature has its way to come around, as it cannot be contained for too long. It comes with its wrath when the eco-system is tampered with, and the next wave of refugees will be the ones bearing the brunt of nature. We have to establish newer trends of Sustainable and Ecological Urbanism, while we still have time to minimize the adversities of mass displacement and refugee crises- in times to come.







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