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Climate Change, Conflict, And Human Displacement

GENEVA, Switzerland

In 2018, over 17 million people were displaced from their homes, with over 90 percent fleeing weather and climate-related disasters according to The United Nations Office for Disaster Relief Reduction (UNODRR) which reported 3 February that while, for example, there were 1,600 recorded disasters, the real number is probably much higher.

Disaster displacement involves forced or in- voluntary movements that may occur within a country or across international borders. It is commonly associated with conflict, but also applies to forced movements triggered by natural or human-made hazards which can be sudden-onset events such as storms, floods or earthquakes or slow-onset phenomena such as drought and sea-level rise.

Displacement is often a result of many interconnected drivers, according to the report. Unsustainable economic growth and development practices accelerate climate change and environmental degradation, which in turn may reduce crop yields and access to natural resources, increasing conflict over water, land and other resources, and eventually forcing people from their land and communities.

UNODRR suggests that many events that cause people to leave homes and seek shelter elsewhere are brief in duration, small in scale, localised in spread, and/or occur in largely inaccessible locations. These events do not get fully reported by the media and the affected populations are often left without any formal humanitarian or government support.

Disaster displacement is considered temporary when people return to their homes quickly after an evacuation. However, so-called “mega disasters” (earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones) often result in prolonged displacement.

The report cites World Bank information that claims that without definitive climate and development action, over 143 million people in the global south (sub-Sahara Africa, South Asia, and Latin America) could be forced into internal displacement in order to cope with the effects of climate change.

This displacement drives poverty and the World Bank estimates that the global economy loses as much as $520 Billion USD every year because of natural hazards which push 26 million people into poverty. This trend is expected to deepen as more people are exposed to climate uncertainty and the consequent escalating disaster risk.

South Asia has experienced about 80 percent of all new disaster displacements over the past 20 years and UNODRR predicts that on the current trajectory, Asia will be unable to meet the UN sustainable goals by 2030.

The report concludes that “[d]isaster displacement represents one of the most significant humanitarian and development challenges of the 21st century. Tackling its causes and impacts is complex, but having good data is a key part of the solution. Collaboration between States in sharing technologies and innovation must accompany investments in better data gathering that maps risks, losses and trends. This will go a long way towards reducing the human and economic burden that defines disaster displacement.”

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