Author(s): Steven Goldfinch

Four steps to increase investment in disaster displacement solutions

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To help those forced to move by disasters caused by natural hazards, innovative financing and greater cooperation between development and humanitarian sectors are needed.

Disaster displacement – when people are forced to move from their homes due to floods, droughts, earthquakes or other catastrophic events – reached 225.3 million in Asia and the Pacific between 2010-2021. Climate change is set to increase displacement as extreme weather events become more frequent and intense, particularly in developing countries.

Displacement, including pre-emptively moving, say to a cyclone shelter, is a proactive life-saving measure. However, displacement can also include people being forced to move multiple times, due to successive disasters, or being displaced for a protracted period.

Our recent study on disaster displacement – a first for Asia and the Pacific – has revealed the following: 

  • Asia and the Pacific is the region most affected by disaster displacement worldwide. Weather-related hazards—such as monsoon rains and tropical storms—were responsible for 95% of all disaster displacement across the region during 2010−2021. 
  • The annual cost of disasters in the region is estimated to be $780 billion, equivalent to 2.5% of regional GDP. This does not include the economic impact of displacement itself.
  • Financial costs and losses weigh disproportionately on those with limited resources. Each time a person is displaced, costs arise. Economic impacts add up when displaced people are uprooted for months, years, or even decades.
  • Investment in the prevention of disaster displacement is the only sustainable course of action for the region’s socioeconomic development. 

The most vulnerable people will likely live with long-lasting and inter-generational impacts of disaster displacement. Being poor and displaced negatively affects all aspects of life, from health and socio-psychological well-being to income and educational outcomes. 

Displacement erodes people’s ability to withstand future disasters and life’s other setbacks, oftentimes entrenching people in cycles of disadvantage. 

The increasing urbanization of displacement is another driver. Asia and the Pacific is the world’s most rapidly urbanizing region. How and where cities grow and accommodate increasing numbers of people, particularly the poor, will shape displacement risk and patterns.

Floods are the most common hazard affecting towns and cities in the region, which means that mitigating the risk of urban flooding will considerably reduce future disaster displacement. 

Our current understanding of the costs of internal displacement is patchy at best. Numbers tend to be underestimated in official reporting, and drivers and triggers are generally based on anecdotal and case-study analyses that cannot be credibly generalized across the region. These blind spots prevent governments from making informed policies and early life-saving interventions that would significantly benefit people affected by displacement.

Asia and the Pacific is the region most affected by disaster displacement worldwide.

That brings us to solutions. And specifically, the role of development finance. 

To date, development finance has largely been deployed on the edges of internal displacement related to climate change and natural hazards. This is unsurprising given the lack of available data, and multifaceted, complex nature of displacement risk. 

For development finance to be better utilized, displacement must be positioned within the broader context of development.

To achieve this, governments, development financiers, and stakeholders in the region should consider taking these steps:

1.    Explicitly recognize displacement as a development issue. While displacement often requires a humanitarian response, addressing the drivers of displacement are primarily development-oriented. Displacement risk needs to be included in dialogues between governments and development partners, with displacement considerations integrated into country analysis to support programming. Displacement considerations should be included in national development plans and sector strategies to provide entry points for development finance.

2.    Strengthen the business case for action. Enhance data collection and analysis on disaster displacement to systematically record the scale and severity of the phenomenon, as well as its impacts on people and economies.

3.    Plan and prepare for solutions. Assess the risk of future disaster displacement and its potential consequences on people and economies to develop more effective, comprehensive, and inclusive prevention plans. Develop strategies for durable solutions, including options for return to areas of origin, or integration in host communities or other areas.

4.    Invest in knowledge and capacity. Given the blind spots and data limitations, greater investment in awareness, knowledge products, practical tools, and capacity is required. A lot can be learned from best practice, critically looking at failures, and taking lessons from solutions related to cross-border and development-related relocations.

Solutions will require innovation of existing lending methods and financing sources, a willingness for development and humanitarian organizations to engage more closely, and a fundamental shift in how development finance engages with what drives a state to become fragile. 


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