When we think about refugees, most of us probably think of war or people fleeing political repression. But this morning, the annual report of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) as part of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) revealed that in 2013, three times as many people were displaced by natural disaster as by conflict.
For the first time, the IDMC looked at the historical trend of disaster-caused displacement. Forty years’ worth of data show the numbers are double what they were in the ’70s. At least part of that increase could be due to climate change, although the report pointed to increased urbanization as a root cause.
“This increasing trend will continue as more and more people live and work in hazard-prone areas,” said NRC council secretary general Jan Egeland. “It is expected to be aggravated in the future by the impacts of climate change. More people today are exposed and vulnerable.”
Asia was the most impacted region, where 19 million people, or 87.1 percent of those impacted worldwide, were displaced. Much of that was due to typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest ever recorded, which ravaged the Philippines in November 2013. That single disaster displaced a million more people than in Africa, the Americas, Europe and Oceania combined. The increasing frequency of such potent storms has been linked to climate change.
In African countries like South Sudan, disaster found confluence with conflict, as seasonal floods, drought and violence combined to cause people to flee.
IDMC director Alfredo Zamudio pointed to the need for better preparation for changing and unpredictable weather patterns caused by climate change.
“Most disaster are as much manmade as they are natural,” he said. “Better urban planning, flood defenses and building standards could mitigate much of their impact.”
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