Increasing numbers of people displaced by disasters

by Richard Welford rwelford@csr-asia.comA new report released today by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) reveals that 32.4 million people were forced to flee their homes in 2012 by disasters such as floods, storms and earthquakes. Poor regions in Asia and West and Central Africa saw most of the displacement, although rich countries were also affected, with the USA particularly affected.
As much as 98% of all displacement in 2012 was related to climate- and weather-related events, with flood disasters in India and Nigeria accounting for 41% of global displacement in 2012. In India alone, monsoon floods displaced 6.9 million people. While over the past five years 81% of global displacement has occurred in Asia, in 2012 Africa had a record high for the region of 8.2 million people newly displaced, over four times more than in any of the previous four years.
There is also increasing scientific evidence that climate change will become an increasingly important factor in the displacement of vulnerable people. A 2012 Special Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that disasters associated with climate extremes influence population mobility and relocation, affecting host and origin communities. As the impacts of climate change increase there will undoubtedly be a significant increase in climate change refugees.
Moreover, what the report highlights is that in countries already facing the effects of conflict and food insecurity such as in Pakistan, vulnerability to disaster triggered by floods is frequently further compounded by hunger, poverty and violence. As usual, the report points to the fact that poor people will be impacted first and worst by the impacts of climate-related disasters.
IDMC’s report highlights how disaster-induced displacement takes a toll in both rich and poor countries with the USA appearing among the top ten countries with the highest levels of new displacement, with over 900,000 people being forced to flee their homes in 2012. People in poorer countries, however, remain disproportionately affected and make up 98% of the global five year total.
One of the lessons that is important for poor vulnerable regions in Asia relates to comparisons in the report between disaster events in the US and those in Haiti. In the US following Hurricane Sandy, most of those displaced were able to find refuge in adequate temporary shelter while displaced from their own homes. But in communities in Haiti, hundreds of thousands are still living in makeshift tents over three years after the 2010 earthquake mega-disaster: a very different picture.
According to the IDMC report, a critical component to improving community resilience and government responses to disasters is better data collection on people who have been displaced. Currently the information available often only focuses on the most visible people who take shelter in official evacuation sites or camps. There is a need to understand more about those who seek refuge with families and friends, people who are repeatedly displaced by smaller disasters, or those who are stuck in prolonged displacement following a disaster– not just those that make headlines.
There is a lot that the private sector can do in terms of responding to disaster events that displace people. Businesses, often do respond in the immediate wake of disasters when the headlines associated with disasters mean that companies donating money can get “noticed”. But what the report highlights is the longer term role that businesses might play, with an emphasis on helping to re-house the poor and find long-term alternatives for those who have lost land, businesses, jobs and livelihoods.
But we should also be looking hard at the role of business in disaster preparedness. One of the issues that the report highlights is the need to build community resilience to disasters so that they themselves are better able to respond to disaster situations. This is important work but may not get companies as much attention as donations in a post-disaster situation. Yet there is mounting evidence that disaster preparedness can be effective in building resilience and can make post-disaster relief much more effective and efficient.
CSR Asia is currently working on a briefing paper supported by the Prudence Foundation on the role of the private sector in disaster preparedness. This will be followed by a Forum on disaster preparedness in November in Jakarta where we will be bringing together key actors (including the private sector) to discuss building a disaster preparedness network across Asia. If you have interesting cases or would like to be more involved in our work, please contact us.
(Source: CSR Asia weekly)

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