31 July 2017

The importance of including disaster displacement provisions in disaster risk reduction planning and practice


Walter Kaelin, Nansen Initiative, the

Disaster displacement ranks among the biggest humanitarian challenges of the 21st century.

In 2016, new disaster related displacements stood at 24.2 million in 118 countries according to the latest report of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center. Those who are forced to leave their homes may end up finding refuge elsewhere, but they pay a heavy price as displacement is a devastating experience. While most disaster displaced persons remain in their countries, some are forced to cross borders.

The Chair’s Summary from the recently concluded 2017 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Cancun emphasises the importance of disaster displacement and calls for the development of disaster risk reduction strategies, which “consider regional and cross-border perspectives and include provisions that aim to prevent displacement attributed to disasters and reduce displacement risk, address the protection needs of displaced people and promote durable solutions to displacement”.

Such policy achievements represent unique opportunities to address and reduce the risk of disaster displacement. The Platform on Disaster Displacement advocates for states to formulate and integrate disaster displacement and human mobility provisions into their national and regional DRR strategies, while engaging in a coordinated partnership through an all-of-society engagement.

Suggested policy provisions include:

Prevention of displacement and reduction of displacement risk by:

  • Scaling up efforts to reduce disaster and climate risk and strengthening the resilience and adaptive capacity of people at risk of displacement by investing in infrastructure, safe housing and livelihood diversification.
  • Facilitating adaptive measures such as voluntary migration in areas facing high levels of disaster and climate risk and including participatory planned relocation as a protective measure of last resort in DRR policy and practice.

Addressing the protection needs of displaced people through:

  • Establishing capacity for preparedness and community-based early warning systems in order to prepare for safe and timely evacuations if displacement becomes unavoidable, thus ensuring the protection of all displaced persons.
  • Preparing for cross-border disaster-displacement through regional and transboundary cooperation and joint contingency-planning, and providing humanitarian protection as per the Nansen Initiative Protection Agenda.

Promoting durable solutions to displacement:

  • As part of post-disaster recovery and rehabilitation, “build back better” and ensure that those who can return or settle elsewhere have access to adequate housing, basic services and the restoration of livelihoods.

Going forward, the Platform working with some of its Advisory Committee members (UNISDR, IOM, UNHCR, NRC AND IDMC) is going to draft practical guidance on disaster displacement and DRR (“Words into Action”) in order to help states implement the Sendai Framework and their commitments.

Countries seeking advice on how to include displacement provisions in their DRR policies and strategies by 2020 (Sendai Framework Target E) are invited to contact the Platform on Disaster Displacement Coordination Unit.

Walter Kaelin is the Envoy of the Chair of the Platform on Disaster Displacement. He is also the former Envoy of the Chairmanship of the Nansen Initiative on disaster-induced cross-border displacement (2012-2015) and former legal advisor to the Chair of the Platform on Disaster Displacement (until June 2017).

He is also professor emeritus for international and (Swiss) constitutional law, University of Bern/Switzerland. He served as Representative of the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (2004-2010), as a member of the UN Human Rights Committee (2003-2008 / 2012-2014) and as Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Commission on the situation of human rights in Iraqi occupied Kuwait (1991/92). From 2011-2015, he acted as director of the Swiss Centre of Excellence in Human Rights.

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