Disasters force 20m from their homes in 2014

Asia saw 16.7 million people displaced by disasters in 2014, says the Norwegian Refugee Council

Nearly 20 million people were forced to flee their homes by floods, storms and earthquakes last year, a trend driven by worsening climate change and urbanisation, but which could be slowed by better planning, a report said Monday.

Asia, the worst affected region globally, saw 16.7 million people displaced by disasters in 2014, the result of typhoons in China and the Philippines and flooding in India, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said.

Factors such as population growth and the increase of large and poorly built settlements in hazard-prone areas are putting more people at risk, said Jan Egeland, secretary general of NRC.

“The millions of lives devastated by disasters is more often a consequence of bad mad-made structures and policies than the forces of mother nature,” he said. “A flood is not in itself a disaster; the catastrophic consequences happen when people are neither prepared not protected when it hits.”

Since 2008, an average of 26.4 million people have been displaced by disasters each year – the equivalent to one person displaced every second. Today, the likelihood of being displaced by weather or geographical-related hazards is 60 per cent higher than it was four decades ago, the NRC said.

Climate change is also expected to worsen the situation, as severe weather events become more frequent and intense.

“When hazards strike, there are more homes and people in their path, and therefore flight becomes necessary for survival,” said Alfredo Zamudio, director of NMC’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.

Being uprooted by disaster is not limited to poor countries. In the US, more than 56,000 still need housing assistance in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2013. More than 230,000 have been unable to establish new homes in Japan following the country’s 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident.

Governments must do more to prepare for disasters, to minimise the risk of long-term displacement, said William Lacy Swing, director general of the International Organisation for Migration.

“If communities are strengthened and ready beforehand, with solid infrastructure, early warning systems and other measures, displacement can be used as a short-term coping strategy, or avoided altogether.”

“We can talk about sustainability, climate change and a reformed humanitarian architecture” added Zamudio, “[but] 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”.