In 2013, almost 22 million people were displaced in at least 119 countries by natural disasters, almost three times as many as were displaced by conflict and violence, according to the report Global Estimates 2014: People displaced by disasters by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines caused the largest displacement of the year, forcing  1 million more people to flee their homes than all the natural catastrophes that occurred in Africa, the Americas, Europe and Oceania combined.

The report shows also that in the last four decades, the risk of displacement due to natural disasters is estimated to have more than doubled. A number of factors explain this increase, including the fact that the world population has increased by 96% since the 1970s, increasing concentration of people in urban areas of countries which are more vulnerable to natural disasters (urban populations in developing countries have risen by 326%), and early warning mechanisms and emergency evacuations save more people, leaving them displaced.

In addition, the report shows that in 33 out of 36 countries affected by armed conflict between 2008 and 2012, there were also reports of natural hazards forcing people to flee their homes. The combination of conflict and natural hazards limits people’s options in terms of flight and destination, and creates even more obstacles to return. In some cases, many people who flee a combination of conflict and natural hazards suffer repeated displacement, including those who take refuge in areas where they are then exposed to further risk.

Most disasters are as much man-made as they are natural,” said IDMC’s director Alfredo Zamudio. “Better urban planning, flood defences and building standards could mitigate much of their impact”. As world leaders prepare to gather for the United Nation’s Global Climate Change Summit, the report calls for action to be taken to reduce disaster risk and to help communities adapt to changing and unpredictable weather patterns and geophysical  hazards, without which much more displacement will occur in the future.


This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 19 September 2014. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.