Weather-related disasters continue to displace more than conflict and violence

Internal displacement due to weather-related disasters relatively dipped in 2023 as La Nina ended and El Nino set in
Red Cross Volunteers distribute cash to refugees in Al-Jarribe village near Al-Geneina town, West Darfur, Sudan. Photo:
Red Cross Volunteers distribute cash to refugees in Al-Jarribe village near Al-Geneina town, West Darfur, Sudan. Photo:

In 2023, the number of internally displaced people increased to 75.9 million, from 71.1 million in the preceding year, according to the Global Report on Internal Displacement 2024 (GRID-2024) released by the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), a leading institution on monitoring of internal displacement in the world.

IDMC defines internal displacement as “the number of forced movements of people within the borders of their country recorded during (a) year.” The GRID records internal displacements due to conflict and violence and disasters.

Tracked since 2018, the report has been recording a trend of disasters — particularly weather-related ones — displacing more people than conflict and violence, traditionally the dominant reasons for displacement. But during 2022-2023, this trend seems to have reversed: conflicts and violence again causing more displacements, particularly in the last two years.

According to GRID-2024, “68.3 million people were living in internal displacement as a result of conflict and violence at the end of 2023, the highest figure since data became available. Sudan, Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Colombia and Yemen host nearly half of the world’s internally displaced people.”  This is a 49 per cent increase over the 2022 figure. 

On the other hand, the disaster-induced internal displacement population was 7.7 million by the end of 2023; one-fourth of it was caused by earthquakes. “We detected disaster displacement in 148 countries and territories in 2023, with significant events across six continents. Some high-income countries, such as Canada and New Zealand, reported their highest figures ever,” says the GRID-2024.

However, internal displacement due to weather-related disasters came down by a third in 2023, in comparison to 2022.

On the face of it, it indicates fewer burdens of weather-related disasters, considered the most enduring impacts of climate change. But an analysis of the GRID-2024 data shows that disasters continue to trigger more internal displacement than conflict and violence.

Overall, 56 per cent of all internal displacement in 2023 was caused by disasters, while the rest by conflict and violence, according to GRID-2024. Weather-related displacement reported in 2023 is the third highest in the last one decade, notwithstanding the dip in number in comparison to 2022.

The relatively less displacement due to weather-related disasters, the GRID-2024 attributes, is due to the change in a global weather phenomenon. In 2023, La Nina ended and El Nino set in. La Nina is cooler than the normal phase of the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. La Nina is associated with a higher number of storms and floods while El Nino is associated with dry weather resulting in droughts. “Storms and floods led to fewer displacements across most of Asia, but floods in other areas triggered record numbers, particularly in the Horn of Africa,” says the report on the linkage of displacement with withdrawal of La Nina.

This transition in the global weather phenomenon saw South Asia that includes India reporting its lowest displacement in recent years. South Asia reported 3.7 million internal displacements, of which disasters caused 3.6 million. This is the lowest displacement figure since 2018, when IDMC started monitoring internal displacement.

“The decrease (in displacement due to disasters) is partly explained by the onset of the El Nino phenomenon, which led to below average rainfall during the monsoons and a weaker cyclone season,” reasons the GRID-2024. However, the report adds, “That said, floods and storms continued to uproot people from their homes, often in the same places where displacement tends to be recorded year after year.”

Earlier Down To Earth reported that incidents of flood and storm increased due to La Nina, consequently leading to more displacement. GRID-2023 said the number of people displaced by disasters rose by 40 per cent in 2022 than 2021. Of the total disaster displacement in 2022, 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.”

The GRID-2023 attributed the increase in disasters, particularly weather-related, to the three-year-long La Nina. “(This is) largely the result of the effects of La Nina which continued for a third consecutive year,” said the GRID-2023.

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