An estimated 12.6 million people have been internally displaced over the past six months, the majority due to climate-related disasters, according to a new report by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
The report draws on data from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, which found that 2.3 million people were displaced by conflict over this period and 10.3 by climate events. The IFRC says the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated humanitarian relief efforts because physical distancing requirements have made it harder to accommodate people and global economic disruptions have diminished foreign aid.
While climate change is a global phenomenon, its impacts are unevenly felt around the world. Already, some countries and regions, often those with the least resources to adapt, are bearing the brunt of destabilizing climate and weather events.
“Asia suffers much more than any other region from climate disaster-related displacements,” Helen Brunt, Asia Pacific migration and displacement coordinator, IFRC said in a statement.
“These upheavals are taking a terrible toll on some of the poorest communities already reeling from the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she added.
Climate change can displace people in a number of ways. Severe rainfall has caused flooding that inundates homes and agricultural land, while worsening droughts have prevented people from earning a livelihood. Extreme storms pound an area with devastating winds, heat waves make an area unbearable, and wildfires cause widespread destruction.
The report notes that roughly 22.7 million people annually are being displaced by climate-related events. The actual figure could be even higher because analysts are still trying to figure out how to incorporate displacement from slow-onset events like sea level rise. Through the rest of this century, 90 million people may be displaced by sea level rise alone, the report said.
Other forms of slow-onset events include the loss of biodiversity, ocean acidification, and forest loss.
The people most likely to be displaced are those who live in precarious conditions, “including women, children, the elderly, migrants and refugees, stateless people, minority groups, and people with disabilities or serious health conditions.”
“Many displaced people have critical assistance and protection needs, ranging from emergency shelter, health and psychosocial support, access to clean water and sanitation, protection against violence including gender-based violence and child protection, as well as longer-term support to recover and realize durable solutions,” the report said.
The IFRC calls on countries to uphold the principles of UN and regional frameworks around migration and refugees. The report also calls on countries to invest in local humanitarian responders, improve monitoring systems, ensure gender equity, and invest in adaptation efforts to reduce the impact of climate disasters.
“We are seeing an alarming trend of people displaced by more extreme weather events such as Typhoon Goni, the world’s most ferocious storm last year, that smashed into the Philippines. Three storms hit the Philippines in as many weeks, leaving over 3 million people destitute,” Brunt said.
“We need greater action and urgent investment to reduce internal displacement caused by the rising risk of disasters. Investing much more in local organisations and first responders is critical so they have the resources needed to protect lives, homes and their communities,” she said.