Natural disasters displaced nearly 20 million people in 2014

Since 2008 an average of 26.4 million people have been displaced by disasters each year, which is equivalent to one person displaced every second. Poor disaster planning and protection measures are to blame – not mother nature, says a new report.

In its report The Global Estimates: People displaced by disasters, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) reveals that in 2014 17.5 million people were forced to flee their homes due to weather-related disasters such as floods and storms and 1.7 million by geophysical hazards such as earthquakes. Asia, home to 60 per cent of the world’s population, accounted for 87 per cent of the global total of people displaced in 2014.

And the report places the blame squarely on the shoulders of humans, not mother nature.

“The millions of lives devastated by disasters is more often a consequence of bad man-made structures and policies, 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”.

Human-made factors such as rapid economic development, urbanisation and population growth in vulnerable areas are driving an overall trend in disaster displacement. “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.

The report finds that the likelihood of being displaced by a disaster today is 60 per cent higher than it was four decades ago. Climate change is also expected to exacerbate the situation in the future, as severe weather hazards become more frequent and intense.

With disaster displacement on the rise, governments must prioritise measures to make people and societies at risk of displacement more resilient, argues William Lacy Swing, director general of International Organization for Migration, which provided data 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”.

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