Displacement from disaster set to increase, warns UN

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Heavy rains in Somalia, and tribal disputes resulted in the displacement of more than 4,000 people in 2012. Photo: AU UN IST / Tobin Jones

Earthquakes, hurricanes and other so-called sudden onset phenomena force nearly 14 million people a year to flee their homes every year – and that number is set to rise, the UN said on Friday, the International Day for Disaster Reduction.

UNISDR, the agency tasked with encouraging Member States to do more to protect vulnerable communities, said that the biggest driver of displacement is flooding – and it’s a growing threat.

However, substantial reductions in the number of people affected by disaster are possible if governments provide more safe, secure and affordable housing, UNISDR has advised in a new report.

Daniel Johnson has more.

Apart from the terrible human cost of the Atlantic hurricane season, the economic fallout of the devastation in the U.S. alone has been estimated at around US $300 billion.

The losses may be even more significant – and hard to recover from – for small island states in the Caribbean – Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda.

To help get these communities back on their feet – and others still reeling from record flooding in Bangladesh, India and Nepal – governments should be more careful about where people put their homes from now on, and how well they build them, UNISDR says.

In future, failure to prioritise disaster risk policies – including reducing emissions – will result in even more people being forced from their homes, UNISDR’s Denis McClean told journalists in Geneva:

“The sea level is rising, we know that temperatures are going up, and this is the fuel for the formation of hurricanes as we have seen in recent months, and it adds to the intensity of these events, particularly to storm surge. It’s a physical fact of life.”

In a new report co-authored with the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), the agency said that eight of the 10 countries where people face the biggest risk of losing their homes are in south and south-east Asia.

Of more than 200 nations and territories covered in the study, India is most vulnerable, with 2.3 million people at risk; China’s next, followed by Bangladesh, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva

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