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Mass Population Flight Expected to Grow over the Coming Decade

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Mass Population Flight Expected to Grow over the Coming Decade

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres warned on May 31 that factors causing mass population flight are growing and over the coming decade more people on the move will become refugees or displaced within their own country.

In comments marking the launch in New York of The State of the World's Refugees: In Search of Solidarity, Guterres said displacement from conflict was becoming compounded by a combination of causes, including climate change, population growth, urbanization, food insecurity, water scarcity and resource competition.

All these factors are interacting with each other, increasing instability and conflict and forcing people to move. In a world that is becoming smaller and smaller, finding solutions, he said, would need determined international political will.

"The world is creating displacement faster than it is producing solutions," said Guterres. "And this means one thing only: more people trapped in exile over many years, unable to return home, to settle locally, or to move elsewhere. Global displacement is an inherently international problem and, as such, needs international solutions—and by this I mainly mean political solutions."

The new publication details these and other changes to the environment for the displaced since 2006, when the previous edition of the book was published. It presents a decidedly gloomier outlook: larger and more complex displacement challenges, increased threats to the safety of humanitarian workers, and states needing to strengthen their cooperation.

Notable among these changes is the emergence of internal displacement as a dominant challenge. Today, most of the world's 43 million people forced to flee their homes are not refugees but people who are displaced within their own countries, commonly referred to as internally displaced people, or IDPs. Globally, some 26 million people fall into this category, compared to around 15-16 million refugees and a further 1 million asylum-seekers.

For humanitarian workers, an ensuing implication is that helping the displaced is becoming more costly and dangerous. In countries such as Somalia, Afghanistan, Yemen or Iraq, getting help to internally displaced populations means working in environments where access is difficult and conflict or criminality can present deadly risk.

The State of the World's Refugees looks at these problems and the state of cooperation among countries. "The space for humanitarian intervention is shrinking exactly when the need for humanitarian help is increasing. Pressures on the international protection system are clearly growing. In some industrialized countries in particular we see fortress mentalities that serve only to shift responsibility and compassion elsewhere. In a world where societies are becoming multi-cultural and multi-ethnic, it is essential to promote the values of tolerance and to fight the manifestation of xenophobia," said Guterres.

Several chapters in the book look at emerging challenges, including the growing numbers of urban refugees as well as displacement from climate change and natural disasters. The book notes that more people are displaced annually by natural disasters than by conflict. And it carries a warning about gaps in international protection when it comes to people who flee across borders to escape climate change impacts or natural disasters. They are not recognized as refugees under international law.

The book describes how UNHCR and its partners have developed innovative practices in response to evolving displacement challenges. However, it also elaborates the struggle UNHCR often faces in promoting state compliance with customary international law as it relates to the forcibly displaced, or the compliance of signatory states to their obligations under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. It looks, too, at the problems of the world's estimated 12 million stateless people—without citizenship of any country, they are often trapped in legal and human rights limbo.

Eighty percent of today's refugees live in the developing world. Greater international solidarity is needed to address this challenge, the book concludes. This encompasses providing more resettlement opportunities for refugees in the industrialized world, focusing development cooperation projects to foster sustainable voluntary return or local integration, and supporting host communities. A new deal in burden and responsibility sharing is needed in the whole cycle of refugee protection from prevention of conflict to solutions.

Visit EcoWatch's CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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