More support for those displaced by natural disasters

BARCELONA • Governments of 110 nations have promised to beef up action to help people forced to leave their homes and cross borders because of natural disasters - and to take steps to prevent them from having to flee in the first place.

Ministers and other officials adopted a non-binding "Protection Agenda" in Geneva on Tuesday to protect those displaced to other countries by earthquakes, volcano eruptions and climate-linked hazards such as floods, storms, droughts and rising seas. They noted that between 2008 and last year, 184.4 million people were displaced by disasters.

They were meeting for the final global consultation under the Nansen Initiative, launched three years ago by the Swiss and Norwegian governments to find ways to support people forced to flee their homeland by environmental crises - yet unable to claim refugee status.

"Forced displacement related to disasters, including the adverse effects of climate change... is a reality and among the biggest humanitarian challenges facing states and the international community in the 21st century," the document said. Africa, and Central and South America have seen the highest level of cross-border disaster displacement.

Countries whose people are likely to be displaced by climate impact and other natural hazards - from Fiji to the Philippines and Madagascar - appealed for support at the meeting, said Mr Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

"They explained that they are desperate - a big portion of their population is at risk, and they need help."

Mr Egeland said governments could provide those arriving with some form of legal status, and permits to stay and work. Governments, United Nations agencies and civil society groups should, where possible, help them obtain new housing and land in their country so they can return home "with dignity", he added.

The Protection Agenda emphasises that much can be done to avoid displacement - from setting up early warning systems to strengthening infrastructure. But efforts to adapt to climate change must also accept that some may have no choice but to move.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2015, with the headline 'More support for those displaced by natural disasters'. Print Edition | Subscribe