The irresistible forces of mass migration reverberate throughout human history. These forces finally destroyed Rome in 476 AD, although alarm bells had sounded in 378 AD, when the Roman Emperor Valens and two-thirds of his army (more than 10,000 men) were defeated by an army of Gothic migrants in a single afternoon at the battle of Adrianople.
Migrants overran one of the greatest empires in history, but the process was relatively slow. Valens' shock defeat and the final collapse of Rome were separated by almost 100 years. By contrast, recent centuries have seen an uptick in the tempo of mass migration. From around 1850 until the start of the First World War, 1914, mass migration occurred at a speed never seen before in the history of the world. In a little over 60 years, nearly 40 million people migrated to the New World, America.
A variety of drivers cause mass migration. The disintegration of the British Empire in the 20th Century, for example, caused the partition of India in 1947. The UNHCR estimates that 14 million Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were displaced as a direct result of the partition. So, various factors such as war, pressing economic circumstances, oppressive governments and the collapse of empires can trigger waves of migration.
However, the world faces a completely new situation today; climate change. This dangerous situation, if left unchecked, will trigger the mass exodus of tens of millions of desperate families in a matter of days and weeks.
Governments are aware of this, I believe, and are using the current 'refugee crisis' as an experiment to change our perceptions, to persuade us that accepting the future movements of tens of millions of people over thousands of miles is unfortunate, but somehow necessary. The driver, in the near future, will be the lack of basic resources, principally water.
Arid and semi-arid areas of the world will soon be unable to support their fast-growing populations. Iran, for example, was once considered a country prone to drought from time to time. Now she is categorized as belonging to the arid / semi-arid zones of Asia. Although Iran has agricultural records dating back to 4,000 BC, government mismanagement and soil erosion has created a modern day crisis. For example, most countries use around 70% of their water for agriculture; Iran uses over 90%!
Illegal digging of wells for fresh water, many now polluted, and industry dumping untreated wastewater into Iran's waterways has resulted in the pollution of groundwater, rivers and lakes. Climate change will simply make the situation worse. At some point, the lack of potable water for the basic needs of Iran's population of nearly 78 million will create a humanitarian crisis of biblical proportions. Already, Iran's reservoirs are only 40% full according to official figures, and nine cities including the capital, Tehran, are threatened with water restriction.
It takes years to put the infrastructure in place to provide potable water. A man and his family cannot wait that long. The immediate solution is to migrate! Tens of millions will be affected, and so one can reasonably expect tens of millions to be on the move.
Before accusing me of being alarmist, or even paranoiac, ask yourself if anyone could have predicted the current mass migration from parts of the Middle East to Europe 10 years ago, or even just 5 years ago? I don't believe so. However, the current problems related to dwindling natural resources can be objectively measured; you don't have to believe me. And I believe governments are doing just that and are using the current humanitarian crisis as a test to see how European citizens react to mass migration. If all goes well, then the shock of tens of millions on the move in the near future – in 5 to 10 years, possibly – will be politically manageable, they think.
Global warming will add to the problem of scarce natural resources, of course. Across many parts of the world, 2015 was the hottest year on record. Since records began in January 1880, the combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for July 2015 was the highest recorded for 135 years!
Scarce natural resources, increasing populations and global warming could create the perfect storm. But will the storm of mass migration blow us away, like the Roman Empire?
By Angus McFarlane, guest writer
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