Forced out by extreme weather, not war

🌎 Humanitarians are on alert for climate disasters.

Welcome to WorldWise, a newsletter to help discerning readers get truly global insight where current affairs meet humanity, written by Anita Makri.

This is the WorldWise View edition, with analysis on what’s in the news.

👉🏽 A final reminder that WorldWise and I will take a short break starting May 31st for a mid-year retreat, recharge and redesign. Thank you for reading and see you soon!

Sometimes there’s no option but to move.

A record number of people were forced to flee their homes last year, according to new statistics released by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). 

Disasters, in many cases linked to extreme weather, were the primary reason—more significant than war or conflict. Disasters pushed 30.7 million people to flee within their own country in 2020 alone. That’s three times the number pushed out by conflict and violence.

Together, those two factors add 40.5 million people to the total of internally displaced people, which now stands 55 million worldwide—it’s more than double the number of people who crossed borders as refugees (TRF + France24 + VOA + Guardian).

The report comes on the heels of Cyclone Tauktae, a category-4 tropical storm that hit the west coast of India with deadly force over the past week or so—reportedly the most severe cyclone in over two decades. The Atlantic hurricane season is around the corner too, and it’s likely to be busier than average; this follows a record year for hurricane activity in 2020 (NYT + WMO).

Scientists have long warned that climate change is increasing the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events.

The NRC has also published its top-10 list of the world’s most neglected displacement crises. It’s dominated by African nations and led by the DRC—where a volcano eruption is the most recent incident threatening to push hundreds of thousands to flee their homes—followed by Cameroon, Burundi, Venezuela, Honduras, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Central African Republic and Mali.

The humanitarian community is alert to the trend. 

Almost two years ago, I wrote about signs of a growing momentum behind factoring climate change into aid work. The movement was nascent back then. Although the urgency was clear among the people I talked to from IFRC and MSF/Doctors without Borders, I got the sense they still had to push for the humanitarian community to take it seriously.

At the time, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement was just starting to develop a document intended to guide the sector’s response to the impact of climate and environmental crises. And after a consultation involving hundreds of professionals and organisations, including UN agencies, the Climate and Environment Charter for Humanitarian Organizations is now ready—ICRC and IFRC adopted it last week. It includes several commitments like embracing more local leadership, increasing capacity to understand climate risk, and helping vulnerable people to adapt to the impacts of climate and environmental crises.

When writing the feature I talked to Maarten van Aalst, Director of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, who had a lot of interesting things to say about this work. As usual, a small fraction made it into the story. I’ve dug out a few points from that conversation that capture some key messages on questions around how the humanitarian community needs to respond. 

  • On being aware, and agile—van Aalst said there are two key aspects to the capacity to respond: being aware of where things are changing, and how they are changing; and, strengthening the sector’s general ability to deal with shocks and surprises.

  • On avoiding a fixation on blaming climate change—it’s important to remember that impacts are not just about climate change: there's urbanisation, population growth, environmental management. The goal is to manage risk, not blame climate change—and vice versa, not to use climate change as an excuse for inaction.

  • On strengthening resilience—for the IFRC, the focus is on strengthening resilience in parts of the world that are especially vulnerable to what climate change brings because of some of these factors. But...

  • On acting before a disaster—the humanitarian system is used to working by releasing funds after a disaster. There’s a risk that comes with preemptive action, and it’s that of getting things wrong. van Aalst called for a change in the mindset of donors on this, and argued that getting it wrong once in a while still makes economic sense—but requires having the scientific evidence to prove it. 

Watch this trend—the intersection between climate change and humanitarian work will clearly only become more significant in the years to come.

🎥 VISUAL | The world’s most neglected displacement crises - Al Jazeera

A final note from the week’s soundtrack 🌎

WorldWise is an independent newsletter—thanks for your readership and support.

Thoughts to share, or something I missed? Hit reply or leave a comment.

Leave a comment

Enjoying it? Share and invite others to subscribe, or just tap the heart button.

Share Worldwise

Want more global journalism? Get in touch to discuss sponsorship options.

Sponsor WorldWise content

📬 Find out more and subscribe | 🙏 Support on Ko-fi | 🔹 Follow on Twitter