Assam reflects world’s protracted disaster-induced displacement

Latest report on global internal displacement shows disasters continue to displace more and people are living longer in relief camps  

By DTE Staff
Published: Thursday 19 May 2022

The Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC)’s near-real-time displacement monitoring tool has Assam as the only spot currently in India where people have been displaced due to disaster and are living in camps. And this has been the case since late March 2022.

On April 30, there were some 16,370 people living in displacement. It has been nearly 100 days that the monitoring tool constantly shows people living in such camps.

By March 18, the first wave of floods battered Assam. Severe floods after rains affected over 400,000 people in 26 districts out of the eastern state’s 33 districts. Some 40,000 people were shifted to relief camps. 

This wave of floods receded but on May 16, a severe flood hit. This affected 0.67 million people by May 18 and displaced over half a million people, according to the Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA). Some 50,000 people were in relief camps in 27 districts, ASDMA said. 

For the last two months close to 35,000 people have stayed in relief camps only, not able to move back to their flood-ravaged homes, data from ASDMA showed.

Looking at the floods in the last five years (2018-2022, May), at any point of time, around 20,000 people had lived in camps, displaced by disasters like flood. Most of them have spent an average five to six months in such relief camps.

What Assam is experiencing is the new reality as climate change unfolds in catastrophic ways. The world seems to be on a fast track towards climate catastrophe as four major climate indicators broke records in 2021, according to the State of the Global Climate 2021 released by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) May 18, 2022.

While more people are now displaced by disasters than war and conflicts, the latest reports pointed out that the increasing frequency of disaster means millions are spending long months in relief camps, precipitating humanitarian crisis. Disasters caused the most internal displacements globally, with 23.7 million recorded in 2021; weather-related hazards accounted for 94 per cent of the total. 

“Many displacement situations triggered by hydrometeorological events have become prolonged or protracted for people unable to return to their former homes or without options for integrating locally or settling elsewhere,” said the State of the Global Climate 2021. This refers to a situation similar to Assam.

IDMC’s Global Report on Internal Displacement report released May 19 said that the number of people living in internal displacement around the world reached a record 59.1 million at the end of 2021, up from 55 million a year earlier. Around 38 million internal displacements, or movements, were reported during 2021 — the second-highest annual figure in a decade after 2020 became the record-breaking year for disaster displacement.

In 2021, disasters displaced 4.9 million people in India, according to the report. This was the highest figure for the country in five years. This is the fourth-highest in the world and the highest in the South Asia region. Out of this, nearly 0.5 million people were in camps, like the nearly 40,000 in Assam for the last two months.

The trend toward long-term displacement will never be reversed unless safe and sustainable conditions are established for IDPs to return home, integrate locally or resettle elsewhere, said IDMC Director Alexandra Bilak.

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