SENDAI, Japan (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The number of people forced from their homes each year by disasters has quadrupled over the past four decades, and the risk of being displaced has doubled, said a Norwegian humanitarian group.
The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), part of the Norwegian Refugee Council, called on governments meeting in Sendai, Japan, later this week to tackle displacement as part of a new global plan to reduce disaster risk worldwide.
The plan's predecessor, the Hyogo Framework for Action, did not refer to displacement by disasters, such as earthquakes, floods and drought, the centre said.
But the draft for the agreement to be finalised in Sendai notes that between 2008 and 2012, 144 million people were displaced by disasters, and urges governments to address the problem, both before and after it happens.
"The world has a unique opportunity at Sendai to prevent millions of people from losing their homes by more robustly linking displacement risk with disaster risk reduction plans," said IDMC director Alfredo Zamudio.
In a report released on Thursday, the IDMC said the risk of disaster-related displacement is growing for reasons including population growth in hazard-prone areas and unequal distribution of wealth.
The number of mega-disasters that displace more than 3 million people has been increasing, resulting in an overall rise in displacement risk, it said.
Mushrooming urbanisation in poor countries is another strong risk factor, the report said. Most of the 20 countries with the highest levels of per capita displacement risk have experienced fast urban growth in the last decade, it noted.
Conflict also makes it more likely natural hazards will push people to leave home, and can hamper aid delivery, as seen in countries such as Somalia, Niger and Pakistan, the report said.
Climate change has not been a significant driver of displacement, but that is expected to change in coming decades, with worsening threats such as rising sea levels, storm surges and extreme precipitation.
“Weather events are predicted to come faster and harder, and will have detrimental impacts on those living in their path," Zamudio said. "Climate change may increase the vulnerability of communities, reducing people's ability to resist and remain rooted if and when hazards strike."
According to the report, which projects average annual displacement per country and hazard type for the next 10 years, Haiti has the highest relative risk, with almost 22,000 people per 1 million under threat of being displaced each year.
The Philippines is second with about 21,000 per million at risk annually, followed by Tonga, Samoa and China.
The IDMC said displacement risk will continue to rise, particularly in Southeast Asia and South Asia.
Southeast Asians are nearly three times more likely to be displaced than South Asians, and almost four times more likely to be displaced than people living in Latin America and the Caribbean, the report said.
Most measures to reduce disaster risk – such as adopting land-use plans and stronger building codes, and helping poor people find more secure ways to make a living – also reduce displacement risk, the IDMC said.
"A disaster is not the number of people killed or the magnitude of the economic losses, the disruption of livelihoods or the scale of displacement. A disaster is all of these things together," Zamudio said.
Reporting by Megan Rowling, editing by Alisa Tang