Shit Idea? A Solution for Displaced Populations

You can’t help but notice the increased coverage week-in-week-out about the number of people displaced throughout the world and the number of attempts to make it to safer shores. Can I think up a solution while sat on my sofa at home to all the worlds problems? Sure, I’ll have a stab at it….

What are displaced people anyway?

“Displaced populations leave their homes in groups, usually due to a sudden impact, such as an earthquake or a flood, threat or conflict. There is usually an intention to return home.
Migration and displacement are interlinked, but must be distinguished. Displaced populations — either across borders such as refugee influxes, or within a country because of disasters or armed conflict — usually need relief operations combined with efforts aiming at collective and lasting solutions.” Definition of Displaced populations by the IFRC

The United Nations Refugee Agency says there are nearly 50 million people who are currently displaced, which to put it into perspective is “the highest number of refugees and IDPs since the end of the Second World War” and that “1 in every 133 people in the world is either a refugee or internally displaced.” And as you can see from the below things are only getting worse.

So to summarise, pretty BIG problem, not getting any better and something that needs a solution proposed on a global scale. I guess the most obvious solution would be to stop conflict but on the off chance this doesn’t work out, what else could we do?

Unused space?

Apparently we have “149 million square kilometres (57.5 million square miles)” of land in the world and 7,125,000,000 people. While some of this space includes areas of conflict, there are vast areas of uninhabited land. This handy little list of some of the worlds least inhabited countries would be on my hit list to provide a temporary home for those displaced. But it seems that no one is really that keen on opening up their boarders to let in vast number of refugees. While I'm not underplaying the financial contributions made by western conflict-free territories, developing countries host over 86% of the world’s refugees.

Longer Term: Floating cities

So if it’s a case of not in my back yard, how about we create new space? While I often think my ideas are rather whimsical, after researching them for this blog, I often discover they aren't as hare-brained as my husband makes them out to be. Often the plot to many futuristic sci-fi novels, could this idea actually work?

In terms of what we currently have we need to look at what’s been developed for war (ironic really) and offshore fossil fuel extraction. As we speak China is planning to build a modular floating island in the disputed South China Sea. But the biggest floating object to grace our seas is still in planning stage. “Prelude FLNG” by Shell measures 488m in length and 74m wide. So we can make pretty big floating stuff already, but whole floating cities to house 50 million people?

I came across this beautiful looking concept called The Lilypad by Vincent Callebaut. It’s a futuristic vision where self sufficient floating structures could house up to 50,000 people.

We’d need to build 1,000 of these floating islands to house those currently displaced while organisations like the UN try to bring peace to the regions so the displaced can return home. Built, funded and owned by an international community and housed in international waters, surely this could be a longer term solution rather than people remaining in conflict zones or suffering in areas of natural disaster?

But how is this all going to be funded I hear you cry (if anyone is actually still reading). We’ll it’s hard to say when we only have concepts to go off but we do have a budget. The UN Refugee agency received US$191 million in donations in 2013, so it could be possible but would likely take years (or decades) to fund.

So what can we do?

The most realistic answer has to be that peaceful countries need to offer up space to those in need, spread fairly between nations. Surely the borders of the world are arbitrary when people are in such dire situations?

Got pretty deep there. Serious topic this week, what do you think we should do to help those displaced?

(Promise to write something less serious next time.)

Interested in reading more?

  • The Global Peace Index 2015, great for understanding what’s currently happening in the world and where.
  • The same people who wrote the report above also have an interactive map visualising the 23 different components they measure in their Global Peace index.
  • The Refugee Project, an interactive map of refugee migration.
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