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Climate a rising cause of displacement – UNHCR

4 April 20240 comments

More than half of all the internal displacements that took place globally in 2022 were triggered by climate-related disasters, according to a new report from the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

The report, titled ‘Climate Change and Displacement’, says a total of 71.1 million people were living in internal displacement when 2022 ended, which was the highest number ever recorded and a 20 per cent increase in just a year, the report said.

The La Niña weather phenomenon was one of the biggest causes behind climate-related displacements, triggering 2.1 million movements across Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya.

Even though the event happens every 3-5 years, 2022 saw it happen for the third consecutive year, a result of increasing climate change.

The event also generated record levels of flooding in Pakistan, Nigeria, and Brazil, impacting two separate clusters of countries differently.  

As the link between climate change and human displacement grows, concerns are growing that the phenomenon might trigger massive migrations from the Global South to the Global North, the report says.

The UNHCR reports says that the majority of the people forced to move due to climate risk tend to shift within their own countries.

And it says 70 per cent of all refugees shift to neighbouring countries in an attempt to stay close to family.

Because most climate displacements happen within the state borders, ‘climate refugee’ is not a term officially recognised by international law. 

The report said internal displacement aggravates food insecurity. Three-quarters of the countries where food security was assessed in the report had internally displaced populations.

The highest number of food-insecure people were found in DRC, Yemen, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Ethiopia.

These countries collectively house over 26 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), which makes up a third of the global total. The Horn of Africa also faced its longest and most severe drought in 2022, showcasing extreme water scarcity in the region.

First on a ranking of countries with the highest number of climate refugees in 2022 is Pakistan. Ninety-per-cent of the climate-related displacements in South Asia were caused by flooding, a massive chunk of which occurred in Pakistan.

Record-breaking rainfall led to flash flooding, leaving 10 per cent of the country underwater and displacing almost 8.2 million people. This was the world’s largest single disaster-related displacement in over a decade.

Second on the ranking is the Philippines which has the highest number of displacements in the East Asia and Pacific region. The Nalgae storm alone caused three million of these displacements in October 2022. Several population segments were hit by various disasters in the same year, causing them to flee multiple times.

Third on the ranking with 72 per cent of total disaster-related displacements was China. Around 1.8 million displacements were triggered by storms that had moved in from the Philippines. The Typhoon Muifa caused another 1.3 million displacements. Flooding in China caused two-thirds of East Asia’s total flood-related displacement.

Fourth on the ranking was India. Around 742,000 displacements in India were triggered in the pre-monsoon season, even before the rains hit with their full strength.

By the end of the monsoon season, 2.1 million displacements had occurred. Cyclone Sitrang, which hit Bangladesh, also led to 66,000 displacements in India. The country was also hit by two other cyclones in the same year.

Fifth on the rankings and the highest disaster-related displacements in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2022 was recorded by Nigeria, which was also its highest number in a decade.

The southern state of Bayelsa faced half of these displacements, which were mostly worsened by severe flooding between June and November.

Read the full report: Climate change and displacement: the myths and the facts | UNHCR