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How disasters drive displacement – and what should be done about it

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Survivors survey the ruins of their former homes after the 2004 tsunami that hit West Aceh

LONDON, 13 March 2015 (IRIN) – The risk of people being displaced by natural disasters has quadrupled in the last 40 years and, unless governments adopt national and global plans to address the main drivers of displacement, increasing numbers of people will lose their homes to floods, earthquakes and landslides in the future.

This is the main message of a report released on Thursday by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) ahead of the third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction due to take place in Sendai, Japan in the coming days. UN member states are expected to adopt a global plan to reduce disaster risk that will build on the Hyogo Framework for Action adopted 10 years ago. 

The Hyogo Framework addressed disaster risk reduction but not the risk of being displaced by a disaster. Since then, hundreds of thousands of lives have been claimed by “mega-events” – earthquakes, tsunamis and cyclones – and there is growing awareness of the need to include disaster-related displacement in future agreements.

The IDMC report measures displacement risk by assessing how vulnerable a particular population is when exposed to a hazard. It concludes that places where rapid and unplanned urbanization has concentrated large numbers of people in areas prone to frequent and severe hazards will continue to bear the brunt of disasters.

Small, under-developed island states such as Haiti and the Philippines top the report’s risk index for future disaster displacement while south and southeast Asia are the regions where displacement risk is predicted to continue increasing.

“Haiti is one of the countries where we’ll see continuous displacement unless something drastically different is done,” IDMC’s director, Alfredo Zamudio told IRIN. “Small islands are going to be very much affected because of the frequency and intensity of the hazards, but things can be done to reduce vulnerability.”

He pointed out that around the same time Haiti experienced its devastating 2010 earthquake, his home country of Chile was much less impacted by an earthquake of even greater magnitude. “The difference was that in Chile they had a building code that started to be implemented in the early 1960s and they respected it. So when the big earthquake came, it gave people more time to get out of the buildings and made them more flexible. So that legislation saved lives.”

By contrast, there was a lack of building codes in Haiti where poor access to land and livelihoods also forced people to live in unsafe areas.

Displacement by disasters is highest in Asia

“Economic growth for a country is not sufficient [for reducing displacement risk],” added Zamudio. “It’s a question of development and governance and providing people with rights so they can themselves find better solutions.”

The study also found that nearly a third of pastoralists in northern Kenya, southern Ethiopia and south-central Somalia could be permanently displaced in the next 25 years due to drought, even without the increased risk resulting from climate change.

The report notes that although climate change is expected to contribute to more frequent and extreme hazards in the future, it has not been a significant driver of displacement up until now. The biggest driver in recent decades has been rapid, unplanned development in hazard-prone areas of poor countries where weak or corrupt governance structures encourage people to live in dangerous locations. Conflict can further undermine the ability of vulnerable communities to protect themselves from, and cope with, disasters. 

Relocating at-risk communities out of harm’s way, as the government in the Philippines is attempting to do in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, which displaced four million people in 2013, is a strategy fraught with potential pitfalls. A recent report by Refugees International found that the post-Haiyan resettlement policy had been poorly planned and implemented and had left affected populations “more, not less vulnerable”.

“Resettlement has to be well-funded and done in cooperation with the people affected,” noted Zamudio. “If resettlement is moving people to areas where they won’t have access to livelihoods and services, then it won’t be improving their lives.”

Reducing the risk of displacement from disasters will require states to address a whole range of issues, from better urban planning to improving access to land and livelihood opportunities. “One single policy won’t solve the problem,” said Zamudio.

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Theme (s): Disaster Risk Reduction, Natural Disasters, Refugees/IDPs,

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Powerful effects of Ebola outbreak felt outside worst-affected countries, UN report finds

12 March 2015 – The effects of Ebola, which has infected nearly 24,000 people and killed nearly 10,000, mainly in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, extend beyond the people who suffer from the virus and even beyond the borders of the worst-affected countries, says a new United Nations report released today.

Even in West African nations that experienced low or zero incidence of Ebola, the effects of the outbreak have been powerful because of the strong ties between the countries of the region, according to the report, which was produced by the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

“The consequences of Ebola are vast,” said Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, the Director of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Africa. “Stigma, risk aversion and shutting down of borders have caused considerable amounts of damage, affecting economies and communities in a large number of countries across the sub-region.”

The UN Development Group (UNDG) says that West Africa as a whole may lose an average of at least $3.6 billion per year between 2014 and 2017, as regional trade flags amid border closures, flight cancellations and reduced foreign direct investment and tourism activity. Per capita income for the region’s residents is also expected to fall by $18 per year between 2015 and 2017.

The poverty rate in Côte d’Ivoire has risen by at least 0.5 per cent because of Ebola, while in Senegal, the proportion of people living below the national poverty line could increase by up to 1.8 per cent in 2014. Food insecurity in Mali and Guinea-Bissau is also on the increase.

The report calls for increased involvement of West African governments and regional institutions to stop the epidemic and boost the recovery, and it points to efforts by the African Union to send doctors from Nigeria and Ethiopia, as well as coordinated efforts by the Mano River Union and the regional body known as ECOWAS.

The report also looks to prevention of future outbreaks, calling for a combination of regional and national interventions, such as efforts to strengthen health sectors across the region, the immediate creation of a regional centre for disease control and prevention, coordinated border control and establishment of early warning and disaster management systems.

Such prevention efforts can draw on the experiences of countries such as Nigeria and Senegal, whose decentralized health systems played a key role in slowing down and eradicating transmission of the disease.

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People in coastal zones in Asia, Africa are most vulnerable to sea-level rise

Coastal infrastructurePeople in coastal zones in Asia, Africa are most vulnerable to sea-level rise

Published 13 March 2015

The number of people potentially exposed to future sea level rise and associated storm surge flooding may be highest in low-elevation coastal zones in Asia and Africa, according to new projections. The researchers assessed future population changes by the years 2030 and 2060 in the low-elevation coastal zone and estimated trends in exposure to 100-year coastal floods. The number of people living in the low-elevation coastal zone, as well as the number of people exposed to flooding from 100-year storm surge events, was highest in Asia. China, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Viet Nam had the largest numbers of coastal population per country and accounted for more than half of the total number of people living in low-elevation coastal zones.

The number of people potentially exposed to future sea level rise and associated storm surge flooding may be highest in low-elevation coastal zones in Asia and Africa, according to new projections published 11 March 2015 in the journal PLoS ONE by Barbara Neumann from Kiel University, Germany, and colleagues.

Many coastal areas are densely populated and exposed to a range of coastal hazards, including sea level rise. As coastal population density and urbanization continue to increase, researchers are investigating how coastal populations may be affected by potential environmental impacts at global and regional scales in the future.

PLoS reports that based on four different sea-level and socioeconomic scenarios, the authors of this study assessed future population changes by the years 2030 and 2060 in the low-elevation coastal zone and estimated trends in exposure to 100-year coastal floods.

From the scenario-based projections, the researchers estimated that the number of people living in the low-elevation coastal zone, as well as the number of people exposed to flooding from 100-year storm surge events, was highest in Asia. China, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Viet Nam had the largest numbers of coastal population per country and accounted for more than half of the total number of people living in low-elevation coastal zones, both now and in the future scenarios.

Africa, however, was estimated to experience the highest future rates of population growth and urbanization in the coastal zone, particularly in Egypt and sub-Saharan countries in West and East Africa.

While the authors’ research method does not explicitly consider possible population displacement or out-migration due to factors such as sea level rise, the results highlight countries and regions with a high degree of potential exposure to coastal flooding, and also help to identify regions where policies and adaptive planning for building resilient coastal communities are essential.

— Read more in Barbara Neumann et al., “Future Coastal Population Growth and Exposure to Sea-Level Rise and Coastal Flooding – A Global Assessment,” PLoS ONE 10, no. 3 (11 March 2015): e0118571(doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0118571)

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News in Brief 12 March 2015 (PM)

12 Mar 2015

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IOM Ebola treatment unit in Grand Cape Mount, Liberia. UNMEER/Martine Perret

Bravery of Ebola responders praised by UN

The bravery of national and international responders in the fight against the Ebola disease has been praised by the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy Dr David Nabarro.

He called their sacrifice remarkable and said their selflessness and determination was making the difference in the fight against the deadly disease.

He made the comments while a healthcare worker from the United Kingdom who has caught the virus was flown home from Sierra Leone.

More than 10,000 people have now died from Ebola in the three worst affected countries in West Africa, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

World urged to join Syria #WhatDoesItTake humanitarian campaign

People around the world are being urged to join a social media campaign for Syria called #WhatDoesItTake.

The UN humanitarian office, OCHA is asking the world community to use the hashtag to express its frustrations about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the war-torn country.

The agency also wants to send what it calls “a message of solidarity” with the people of Syria to encourage them not to give up hope.

More than 220,000 people have been killed since the Syria crisis began in March 2011.

First woman appointed as head of UN civil aviation agency

And finally, the Montreal-based UN International Civil Aviation Organization, known as ICAO, has appointed a woman for the first time as Secretary-General of the organization.

Dr Fang Liu of China will serve a three-year term, beginning 1 August.

Dr Liu has been the Director of ICAO’s Bureau of Administration and Services since 2007.

Daniel Dickinson, United Nations

Duration: 1’41″

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