July 27, 2015 4:07pm
The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre recently released their annual Global Estimates of People Displaced by Disasters, which reports that almost 20 million people were newly displaced by sudden-onset disasters in 100 countries in 2014. Since 2008, an average of 26.4 million people have been displaced by disasters every year—equivalent to one person every second. Their careful analysis of regional and global trends (coupled with impressive infographics) is an important step forward in our understanding of how people’s lives are uprooted by disasters stemming from the effects of climate change. And for the first time ever, their report examines both people who were newly displaced by disasters and those who have been displaced for years. While there is an assumption that people who are forced to leave their homes because of floods or earthquakes will be able to return home quickly, the reality is different—as those affected by Hurricane Katrina can attest.
Similar challenges for developed and developing nations
I was once again struck by the realization that rich and poor countries face similar challenges with respect to displacement caused by disasters. Today, the climate change negotiations seem to be stalled in tense north-south negotiations (for understandable reasons given the fact that some countries, such as Pacific Island countries that have contributed very little to global warming, will suffer disproportionately from the effects of climate change.) But when you shift the focus to look at disasters and displacement, it is clear that disasters affect people in all parts of our planet—from Miami to Manila, from Christchurch to Port-au-Prince—and that displacement has similar consequences for all affected people.
In all regions of the world, those who are poor and marginalized often suffer disproportionately from the effects of disasters, in part because they tend to live on marginal land and their houses are more weakly constructed. They are also less likely to own their homes, which means that it is less likely they are eligible for assistance to rebuild their homes.
A few years ago, I wrote about the similarities between governmental programs to assist those displaced by Hurricane Katrina and by the Haitian earthquake. In both cases, people were still displaced years after the disaster, and in both cases, the U.S. and Haitian governments turned to rental subsidies to meet the housing needs of particularly vulnerable groups. IDMC’s new study turns an eye to a more recent disaster, superstorm Sandy, reminding us—and hopefully policymakers—that there are still more than 30,000 people in the United States who have not yet found solutions to their displacement.