Climate Change

Unusually long La Niña displaced record number of people in 2022

In India, disasters were mostly weather-related and displaced 2.5 million people in 2022, according to the Global Report on Internal Displacement

By Richard Mahapatra
Published: Thursday 11 May 2023
La Niña also caused the worst drought on record in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, triggering 2.1 million movements. Photo: iStock

The number of people displaced by disasters rose by 40 per cent in 2022 than 2021. The Global Report on Internal Displacement 2023 (GRID-2023), the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre’s flagship annual report published May 11, 2023 said 32.6 million people were displaced due to disasters.

Of the total disaster displacement, 98 per cent were triggered by weather-related events like floods and storms. According to GRID-2023, “6 out of 10 disaster displacements were triggered by floods, suppressing storms for the first time since 2016.”

Read more: April 2023 records great variations in temperatures globally: Copernicus

India recorded the fourth largest disaster displacement, with 2.5 million displacements. Pakistan had the highest number of disaster displacements in the world in 2022, at 8.16 million.

The Philippines was at second rank and reported 5.44 million displacements; China at third rank with 3.63 million; and Nigeria at fifth rank with 2.4 million.

The GRID-2023 attributes the increase in disasters, particularly weather-related, to the three-year-long La Niña. “(This is) largely the result of the effects of La Niña which continued for a third consecutive year,” says the IDMC’s report.

La Niña is the cooler than the normal phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean.

The “triple-dip” La Niña caused widespread disasters across the world. Disasters displaced 8.7 million people internally in 88 countries and territories as of December 31, 2022. “(This) led to record levels of flood displacement in countries including Pakistan, Nigeria and Brazil,” says the report.

In Pakistan, floods displaced millions, accounting for a quarter of the global disaster displacements.

This phenomenon also caused “the worst drought on record in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, triggering 2.1 million movements.”

In recent years, disasters have displaced more people than historically dominant reasons for conflicts and violence. This makes climate change — that leads to frequent weather-related disasters — the key driver of massive internal migration of people, who we popularly call “climate refugees”.

Since IDMC started monitoring disaster flows (excluding drought) in 2018 and its report published in 2019, this set of the population has been increasing. By the end of 2018, some 1.6 million people displaced by disasters were still in camps or places away from their homes.

Read more: Volcanic eruptions lower capacity to make near-term climate predictions: Study

By 2021, the IDMC report said 30.7 million new displacements were due to disasters.

“Since we collated such data, disaster displacement has been repeatedly rising and also being reported from more countries — in 2022 some 150 countries/territories reported such displacement,” said Christelle Cazabat, Head of Programmes, IDMC.

In 2022, Sub-Saharan Africa recorded 16.5 million internal displacements, a 17 per cent increase over the preceding year. But this increase is attributed to the three-fold increase in disaster displacements. At 7.4 million, the region recorded the highest-ever displacement due to disasters.

“Nigeria recorded 2.4 million disaster displacements, its highest in a decade and the highest in sub-Saharan Africa in 2022. The increase was mostly the result of severe floods between June and November,” said GRID-2023.

In East Asia and the Pacific region, the impact of La Niña was felt differently. The region recorded less than average displacement due to disasters — around 10.1 million displacements in 2022 in comparison to 13.7 million in 2021. 

“In a rare occurrence, the La Niña phenomenon continued for a third consecutive year, shifting weather patterns significantly. Most parts of East and Southeast Asia experienced less intense rainy and cyclone seasons and recorded fewer associated displacements,” said the report.

In the South Asia region, 12.5 million disaster displacements were recorded in 2022. This is double the annual average of 6.3 million (past decade average) for the region.

“The increase was mostly the result of the severe and widespread flooding that occurred in Pakistan during the monsoon season.” On the other hand, displacement due to conflict and violence recorded a 95 per cent drop over the 2021 level.

Floods accounted for 90 per cent of the region’s total disaster displacements. Pakistan, India and Bangladesh were the most affected. Pakistan’s flood last year was exceptional and termed the severest in a century. 

Overall, the number of people who moved in search of safety and shelter in 2022 was unprecedented. “The figure of 60.9 million was up 60 per cent from the previous year,” says the report.  

Read more: Two cyclones and a gas leak: Journey of migrants between urban precariousness and ravaged villages

In 2022, the number of people displaced by the Russia-Ukraine war increased. According to GRID-2023, the conflict caused a displacement of 16.9 million — “the highest figure ever recorded for any country.” The number of displacements associated with conflict and violence nearly doubled to 28.3 million.

“We have never before recorded internal displacement on this scale. Some 71.1 million people were living in internal displacement as of the end of 2022, a sharp increase compared with 2021, mostly the result of the conflict in Ukraine, but also because of entrenched conflicts and disasters that uproot millions of people every year,” wrote Jan Egeland Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, in the forward to the GRID-2023. 

The overall internal displacement in 2022 was a 20 per cent increase over the 2021 figure and is the highest number ever recorded.

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