Report: Natural disasters forced 20m from homes in 2014

Climate change to aggravate problem which could be eased by better construction


Reuters July 21, 2015
PHOTO: REUTERS

GENEVA: Nearly 20 million people were forced to flee their homes due to floods, storms and earthquakes last year, a problem likely to worsen due to climate change, but which could be eased by better construction, a report said on Monday.

Asia is particularly prone to natural disasters, accounting for almost 90% of the 19.3 million displaced in 2014, led by typhoons in China and the Philippines, and floods in India, the Norwegian Refugee Council said.

“Disaster-related displacement is on the rise and threatens to get worse in coming decades,” Alfredo Zamudio, director of the NRC’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, told a news briefing.

Since 2008, an average of 26.5 million people have been displaced every year by disasters, the report said, and although 2014 figures were lower than that, the NRC said there was a rising long-term trend.

“Our historical analysis reveals you are 60% more likely to be displaced by disasters today than you were in the 1970s,” Zamudio said, adding, “Climate change is expected to play a strong role in the future by increasing the frequency and intensity of such hazards.”

UN scientific experts say greenhouse gas emissions are stoking extremes such as heatwaves and heavy rains. As well as extreme climate events, rapidly growing and poorly built settlements in areas vulnerable to natural disasters are putting more people at risk, Zamudio said, citing areas around cities such as Mexico City, Mumbai, Karachi and Port-au Prince.

Extreme weather has struck Haiti and Cuba with different results. More than 300,000 people died in the 2010 quake in Haiti, where 60,000 still live in tents, said William Lacy Swing, director-general of the International Organisation for Migration, which collected data for the report.

Being uprooted by disaster is not limited to poor countries. “The largest case we found is in Japan, where some 230,000 people are still displaced today following the Tohoku earthquake and the tsunami disaster in 2011, including thousands displaced from the area around the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant,” Zamudio said.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2015. 

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