Disaster-induced Displacement and Development

By: Jonas Bergmann

March 16, 2015

Climate Change, Development, and Catholic Social Thought

Climate change is not only a future threat; it already affects millions of people and seriously hampers the development agendas of numerous countries. One of the many policy challenges aggravated by climate change is disaster-induced displacement.

In 2013, 22 million people were displaced by disasters, 85 percent of them in developing countries. In the Philippines alone, more than four million people sought refuge from Typhoon Haiyan, classified by the United Nations as one of the most severe, large-scale humanitarian crises. Shortly after Haiyan, the islands were hit by two more typhoons and a tropical storm, affecting a total of 8.8 million people. [1]   

With climate change on the rise, such challenges will become more pressing in many world regions. Environmental risks constitute a continuous threat for a country like the Philippines because of its geography. Natural risks are exacerbated by climate change. The climate has already shifted unfavorably in the region and is projected to continue to do so: Intensity, frequency, duration, and impact of natural disasters are expected to increase, posing substantial risks for vulnerable countries like the Philippines. [2]
Disaster-induced displacement is more than a humanitarian concern—the entire development of affected regions is substantially challenged. With millions of people in limbo, individual vulnerabilities, human rights violations, conflict, poverty, and inequality increase. Poverty and inequality make disaster preparedness and resilience difficult, often exacerbating humanitarian crises. With inadequate resources and few opportunities to build resilience (through durable construction, sufficient savings, and diversified income activities, for example), poor communities tend to suffer most from disasters. The NGO Oxfam argues that “poverty perpetuates exposure to disasters and disasters perpetuate exposure to poverty.”[3]   

People are thus forced into a downward spiral of more frequent disasters with less means to mitigate adverse impacts and to rebuild their communities. In the Philippines, Typhoon Haiyan made clear that those who suffer most from this vicious circle are those already living in insecure circumstances.   

Solutions need to be multi-dimensional, addressing both the increasing climate related threats and mitigating the underlying reasons why so many people are at risk. Disaster risk reduction, resilience building, climate change adaptation, and transformation need to be combined with strong social protection mechanisms and robust local capacities, enhanced and managed through effective institutions. Sustainable resilience rebuilding must be based on a pro-poor and pro-inclusion agenda. More resilience can only be built through broader access to opportunities that ensure increased and more equally spread income for the most vulnerable shares of the population.
With rising climate-related threats and a high exposure to its risks due to poverty and inequality, the development challenges for many regions in the world are considerable. The devastation caused by more frequent and more intensive disasters is enormous and pushes people further into poverty, lowering their capacity to deal with future crises. Effective strategies to halt this downward spiral are needed, tackling the underlying vulnerabilities while investing in disaster risk reduction, resilience building, climate change adaptation, and climate transformation.

[1] IDMC (2014): Global Estimates 2014 - People displaced by disasters. 
[2] Coghlan, Christopher; Muzammil, Maliha; Ingram, John; Vervoort, Joost; Otto, Friederike; and James, Rachel (2014): A Sign of Things to Come? Examining four major climate-related disasters, 2010-2013.
[3] World Bank (2015): Climate Change Knowledge Portal: Country Page: Philippines.

This post was originally published on the Global Futures blog.
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