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Disasters displace nearly 20 million in 2014
August 2, 2015, 3:12 pm

In the last seven years, an estimated one person every second has been displaced by a disaster, with 19.3 million people from over 100 countries forced to flee their homes in 2014 alone. Disaster displacement is on the rise worldwide, says the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) in its most recent global disaster report, The Global Estimates: People displaced by disasters.

Revealing that in 2014, over 17.5 million people were forced to flee their homes by disasters brought on by weather-related hazards such as floods and storms, and 1.7 million by geophysical hazards such as earthquakes, the IDMC report says that as policy leaders around the world advance towards the adoption of a post-2015 global agenda, the time has never been better to address it.

The IDMC, which is part of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), is a world leader in the monitoring and analysis of the causes, effects and responses to internal displacement. Through its monitoring and analysis of people internally displaced by conflict, generalized violence, human rights violations, and natural or human-made disasters, IDMC raises awareness and advocates for respect of the rights of at-risk and uprooted peoples.

“The millions of lives devastated by disasters are more often a consequence of ill-conceived man-made infrastructures and policies, rather than the forces of mother nature,” said Jan Egeland, Secretary General of NRC. “A flood is not in itself a disaster, the catastrophic consequences happen when people are neither prepared nor protected when it hits.”

The report points to the man-made factors that drive an overall increasing trend in disaster displacement, like rapid economic development, urbanization and population growth in hazard prone areas. “These factors are a toxic mix, because when such hazards strike there are more homes and people in their path, and therefore flight becomes necessary for survival,” said director of IDMC, Alfredo Zamudio. Climate change is also expected to exacerbate the situation in the future, as severe weather hazards become more frequent and intense.

The report argues that these drivers are increasing the number of people becoming displaced, and the risk that their displacement becomes a long-term problem. Today, the likelihood of being displaced by a disaster is 60 percent higher than it was four decades ago, and an analysis of 34 cases reveals that disaster displacement can last for up to 26 years.

People in both rich and poor countries can be caught in protracted, or long-term, displacement.  In the US, over 56,000 people are still in need of housing assistance following Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and 230,000 people have been unable to establish new homes in Japan following the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident.

“Governments should prioritize measures to strengthen the resilience of people whose displacement risks becoming protracted, or has already become so,” said William Lacy Swing, director general of International Organization for Migration, which assisted in the data collection for the report. “If communities are strengthened and ready beforehand, with solid infrastructure, early warning systems, and other such measures, displacement can be used as a short term coping strategy, or at best be avoided altogether,” he added. 

The report comes at a crucial time this year as various past and future policy processes come together. These include the Sustainable Development Goals which are to be adopted in September, as well as ongoing preparations for the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016. What this report shows is how disaster displacement bridges all these policy processes.

“We can talk about sustainability, climate change and a reformed humanitarian architecture,” said Zamudio, “but to ensure that all these policy processes turn into concrete action, we need to pay closer attention to those living on the front lines; in this case the millions of men, women and children currently on the run from disasters worldwide.”

Disasters in numbers

26.4 million: The average number of people displaced by disasters each year since 2008. This is the equivalent of one person being displaced each second in the past seven years.

22.5 million: The average number of people displaced by climate- or weather-related disasters each year since 2008. This is the equivalent of 62,000 people being displaced every day in the past seven years.

19.3 million: The number of people displaced in 2014 by disasters in 100 countries.

16.7 million: The number of people displaced in Asia in 2014. During the year, Asia, which is home to 60 percent of the world’s population, accounted for 87 percent of the global disaster total. Three countries in Asia, China, India and the Philippines, experienced the highest levels of displacement in absolute terms, both in 2014 and for the 2008 to 2014 period.

190,000: The number of people displaced in Europe during 2014. This number represented double the average level of displacement in Europe during the past seven years. Meanwhile, displacement in Africa was three times lower in 2014 than the average for the last seven years. Nevertheless, countries like Sudan experienced high levels of disaster displacement.





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