Environment

Climate disasters forced more people from their homes than war in 2020

Extreme weather resulted in three times as much displacement as war did last year, analysis showed

The climate crisis forced people from their homes more than 30 million times last year

Someone was forced to flee their home every second in 2020. Image: Global Water Partnerships

Destructive storms and floods forced people to flee their homes nearly 30 million times last year, with the climate crisis posing a greater risk than war to communities around the world.

The number of people displaced for the first time hit a ten-year high in 2020, according to “shocking” analysis by the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).

The accelerating climate crisis will drive an increasing number of extreme weather events in the years to come, researchers said, driving more people away from their homes.

“The scale of displacement worldwide is increasing, and most of it is happening within countries’ borders,” researchers said.

“Every year, millions of people are forced to flee their homes because of conflict and violence. Disasters and the effects of climate change regularly trigger new and secondary displacement, undermining people’s security and wellbeing.”

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There were three times as many instances of people being uprooted by extreme weather and geophysical events such as earthquakes (30.7 million) as were displaced by war and conflict (9.8 million). That difference came despite escalating violence in places such as Ethiopia, Mozambique and Burkina Faso. The study reports the number of times people were displaced around the world, rather than how many people were displaced.

It is “shocking” that “someone was forced to flee their home inside their own country every single second” in 2020, said Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Intense cyclone seasons in South and East Asia and the Pacific forced millions of people from their homes, the report showed, with Cyclone Amphan alone forcing nearly five million people to evacuate across countries such as Bangladesh, India and Myanmar.

“It is particularly concerning that these high figures were recorded against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, when fewer people sought out emergency shelters for fear of infection,” said Alexandra Bilak. 

“Today’s displacement crises arise from many interconnected factors, including climate and environmental change, protracted conflicts and political instability. In a world made more fragile by the Covid-19 pandemic, sustained political will and investment in locally owned solutions will be more important than ever.”

The UK is not immune to displacement as the climate crisis continues. 

Coastal communities will be at risk of climate displacement as sea levels rise and residents of Fairbourne, in Wales, have already been told they will have to leave their village by 2054 when it is expected the sea will be too high for flooding defences to protect the area.

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