Reducing the number of disaster refugees

22 million people were made refugees by natural disasters in 2013, according to a report released last week from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre and the Norwegian Refugee Council. This number is three-times higher than that for displacements caused by conflicts in 2013.

Displacement increases the risk of health problems such as infectious diseases from overcrowding in refugee camps or worsening of chronic diseases due to disruption of care. However, a substantial number of displacements from natural disasters should be preventable.

168 countries endorsed the UN’s new Hyogo Framework for Action 2005—15, which outlined what countries should do to become more resilient to disasters. Progress reports have noted that countries have made good advances in strengthening disaster management, but have been slower to develop early warning systems and to address underlying risk drivers such as rapid urbanisation. Some experts have also criticised the framework for its neglect of other factors that increase the impact of disasters such as poor governance.

The opportunity now exists to build a stronger global disaster reduction agreement. Countries have been discussing what should follow the Hyogo framework post-2015, a process that will culminate next March at the 3rd UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan. A new climate change pact and the next, sustainable, development goals are also being debated. Consideration of how to reduce human vulnerability to disasters in these discussions could make a real difference to the world’s growing refugee crisis.

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