19m forced from homes by natural disasters in 2014

Militia members evacuate residents in a flooded area after torrential rains brought by Typhoon Chan-Hom in Shaoxing in east China's Zhejiang province, on July 11, 2015.
Militia members evacuate residents in a flooded area after torrential rains brought by Typhoon Chan-Hom in Shaoxing in east China's Zhejiang province, on July 11, 2015. PHOTO: EPA

Aid agency warns that extreme weather events will grow in strength and frequency

GENEVA • Natural disasters forced more than 19 million people from their homes in 2014, mostly the result of typhoons, flooding and other weather-related events that are becoming more intense and more frequent, a major European aid agency has reported.

Almost 90 per cent of the 19.3 million people displaced by natural disasters last year lived in Asia, with China, India and the Philippines particularly hard hit by typhoons, floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, according to a report released by the Norwegian Refugee Council.

The number was lower in 2014 than in the previous two years, but the historical trend in displacement is moving up relentlessly, the council said.

"Our historical analysis reveals you are 60 per cent more likely to be displaced by disasters today than you were in the 1970s," Mr Alfredo Zamudio, director of the council's Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, told reporters in Geneva.

The number of people fleeing disasters has averaged 26 million a year over the past seven years, equivalent to one person every second, he said.

GROWING THREAT

Our historical analysis reveals you are 60 per cent more likely to be displaced by disasters today than you were in the 1970s.

MR ALFREDO ZAMUDIO, director of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre

"Vulnerability is increasing," Mr Zamudio said. Extreme events will occur "more often and stronger" and "you will have more people affected by climate change".

The council report exposes another dimension of pressure on humanitarian agencies. They are already struggling to cope with 60 million people driven from home by conflict or persecution at a time when Western countries are showing growing hostility to immigrants.

"This is simply a further complication and exacerbation of this global phenomenon of migration in our time," Mr William Lacy Swing, director-general of the International Organisation for Migration, told a news conference in Geneva.

Displacement by disasters "adds to the number of people who will be, in many cases, moving without proper papers and therefore subject to being criminalised, or sent home forcefully, deported or otherwise", he said.

The council report also underlines concern over the numbers of people who remain displaced years after disasters, in both industrialised and developing countries.

More than 300,000 people died in the 2010 quake in Haiti, where 60,000 still live in tents, while more than 230,000 people forced to flee the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan four years ago are still displaced, it reported.

Three years after Hurricane Sandy hit the north-eastern United States, more than 56,000 people are still in need of housing assistance, the report said.

NEW YORK TIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2015, with the headline '19m forced from homes by natural disasters in 2014'. Print Edition | Subscribe