Natural Disasters Displaced 22 Million People Last Year, 3 Times More Than War

Flood victims wade through receding flood waters as they walk back after collecting relief material in village Teing near Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014. Military specialists blew up dikes in central Pakistan to divert swollen rivers and save cities from raging floods that have killed hundreds of people, authorities said Saturday, as officials stepped up efforts in India’s part of Kashmir to prevent the spread of water-borne diseases there. CREDIT: AP/ ALTAF QADRI
Flood victims wade through receding flood waters as they walk back after collecting relief material in village Teing near Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014. Military specialists blew up dikes in central Pakistan to divert swollen rivers and save cities from raging floods that have killed hundreds of people, authorities said Saturday, as officials stepped up efforts in India’s part of Kashmir to prevent the spread of water-borne diseases there. CREDIT: AP/ ALTAF QADRI

In 2013 natural disasters displaced some 22 million people, with more than four-fifths of those being in Asia, according to a new report. Using four decades of data, the study by the Norwegian Refugee Council found that floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, and other hazards now cause twice as many people to lose their homes as in the 1970s. Over the last decade an average of 27 million people have lost their homes to disaster each year, and in 2010 that number rose to 42 million. In an especially bad year of violent conflict, 2013 saw three times more people lose their homes to natural disaster than war; this ratio has been as high as ten times in the past.

“Basically, the combination of mega natural disasters and hundreds of smaller natural disasters massively displaces people in many more countries than the countries that have war and conflict,” Jan Egeland, the secretary of the Norwegian refugee council, told The Guardian.

In a statement released with the report, Egeland said that this trend will continue as more people live and work in hazard-prone areas, and that “it is expected to be aggravated in the future by the impacts of climate change.”

While no place on earth is safe from natural disaster, Asia is regularly the worst affected area, and in 2013 it composed 87.1 percent of those displaced, or 19 million people. Developing countries account for a similar percentage of the overall statistics, accounting for more than 85 percent of displacement. In the Philippines, in 2013 typhoon Haiyan alone displaced 4.1 million people, a million more than in Africa, the Americas, Europe, and Oceania combined.

The United States had 220,000 people lose their homes in 2013 due to extreme storms and tornadoes in Oklahoma and another 100,000 from flooding in Colorado.

CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos/ThinkProgress

The report calls for governments to make certain they have climate change adaptation plans and “donor commitments” to account for the increasing risk of displacement, including “facilitating migration and planned relocation in ways that respect the rights of vulnerable populations.” They also call for greater investment in disaster risk reduction measures that address people’s underlying vulnerability.

While climate change is understood to worsen many weather-driven natural disasters, much of the increase in disaster displacement comes from the rapid urbanization of rural populations across the world, especially in Asia and soon to be in Africa where the population is expected to double by 2050. According to the report the global population has grown by 96 percent since 1970 and the urban growth rate in developing countries has been more than three times that figure. This means more people are concentrated in countries that are especially vulnerable to natural disasters. Asia’s mega-cities are the most disaster-prone on the planet.

“These vast urban areas become traps when a natural disaster hits,” Egeland said. “People are crammed together and there is no escape. They live in river deltas, they live on hurricane beaches, they live along river beds that are easily flooded, they live where there are mud slides, and so on.”

Some suggestions the authors make for mitigating these urban natural disasters include better urban planning, proper maintenance of flood defenses, and improved or even just introduced building standards. This preparation is expensive, but so is negligence. According to Kristalina Georgieva, European Commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis response, costs related to natural disasters have increased from $50 billion a year in the 1980s to $200 billion in the last decade. Earlier this year she said only four percent of spending for natural disasters goes to prevention and preparedness, with the rest spent on response. She also said that “evidence shows every dollar spent on prevention brings at least $4 in savings on damage.”