LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Natural disasters forced 32.4 million people from their homes in 2012, with climate and weather hazards such as floods and storms causing 98 percent of the displacement, a report said on Monday.
The total was almost double the 2011 number, as major floods hit India and Nigeria last year, accounting for 41 percent of global disaster displacement, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). The figures capture only the impact of rapid-onset crises and exclude droughts, which are slower-moving and harder to track.
In the two biggest events of 2012, monsoon floods uprooted 6.9 million people in India's northeast, and in Nigeria 6.1 million people were newly displaced by widespread flooding in the rainy season.
Over the past five years, some 144 million people have had to leave their homes in 125 nations because of natural disasters, the vast majority staying in their own countries, the report said. The figures vary sharply from year to year according to the number and scale of the largest disasters.
But in general, the risk of displacement is expected to rise in line with global trends that make people more vulnerable, the IDMC warned. Exacerbating factors include population growth, rapid urbanisation and the growing exposure of vulnerable communities and their homes and livelihoods to hazards, it said.
"Due to improved life-saving measures, mortality rates associated with major weather-related hazards are falling, yet increasing numbers of disaster survivors will still be displaced from their homes," the report said. From 2008 to 2012, climate and weather hazards accounted for 83 percent of disaster-driven displacement.
Human-made climate change is expected to increase the frequency and severity of weather-related hazards in the longer term, the report noted.
"The level of displacement risk will be greatly influenced by how well countries and communities are able to strengthen disaster prevention, preparedness and response and adapt to new realities," it added.
Over the past five years, four fifths of disaster-driven displacement has occurred in Asia. But in 2012, Africa had a record high for the region of 8.2 million people displaced, over four times more than in any of the previous four years.
The report highlighted how rich countries are also affected by disasters, with 1.3 million people forced from their homes in 2012. The United States was among the top 10 countries with the highest levels of new displacement, at more than 900,000 people, largely due to Hurricane Sandy in October last year and forest fires.
Nonetheless, people in poor countries remain by far the worst-affected, the report said, making up 98 percent of the global total displaced by disasters between 2008 and 2012.
"In the U.S. following Hurricane Sandy, most of those displaced were able to find refuge in adequate temporary shelter while displaced from their own homes,” Clare Spurrell, IDMC's chief spokesperson, said in a statement. “Compare this to communities in Haiti, where hundreds of thousands are still living in makeshift tents over three years after the 2010 earthquake mega-disaster, and you see a very different picture".
Haiti had displacement levels equivalent to 19 percent of its total population, or 1.9 million people, from 2008 to 2012 - the highest relative level experienced by any country - due to the earthquake and a succession of storms.
Other countries that were badly hit in 2012 were China, the Philippines and Pakistan, with displacement caused by storms and their after-effects.
The year was noteworthy for the relatively low number of people uprooted by earthquakes and volanic eruptions - about 680,000.
Around a quarter of countries where people were displaced by disasters in 2012 were also affected by conflict, the report noted. "Here, vulnerability to disaster triggered by floods is frequently further compounded by hunger, poverty and violence; resulting in a ‘perfect storm’ of risk factors that lead to displacement,″ Spurrell said.
Recently, IDMC said that the total number of people internally displaced by armed conflict, generalised violence and human rights violations worldwide as of the end of 2012 was estimated to be 28.8 million.
CALL FOR BETTER DATA
The IDMC figures count people who are newly displaced each year. But the number of those stuck in long-term displacement - who cannot go back after their homes and livelihoods are destroyed - is unknown, the report said.
"Displaced populations are at increased risk of being neglected, unprotected and left without durable solutions to their displacement the longer they are displaced," it said.
IDMC described the lack of information on the cumulative number of people displaced by disasters as "an important blind spot", and urged governments to systematically collect reliable data on the situation of displaced people.
“Currently the information available is biased, often only focusing on the most visible people who take shelter in official evacuation sites or camps," Spurrell said. "We need to know more about those who seek refuge with families and friends, people who are repeatedly displaced by smaller disasters, or those who are stuck in prolonged displacement following a disaster – not just those that make headlines.”
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