Expert analysis

13 June 2023

Seizing the opportunity to address disaster displacement in the Loss & Damage discussions

The Sixth Assessment Report of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed that “climate and weather extremes are increasingly driving displacement in all regions”, with most occurring within borders.

Illustrating this is the latest record-breaking figure published by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), with 32.6 million disaster displacements recorded worldwide in 2022, notably as a result of flooding in Pakistan and drought in the Horn of Africa. Beyond the numbers, IDMC has been documenting the socio-economic impacts of internal displacement and the losses and damages suffered by displaced people and their communities.

At the time of writing, Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are meeting in Bonn, Germany, to prepare decisions for adoption at COP28 in December 2023. Following the breakthrough decision at COP27 last year to establish a Loss and Damage fund for vulnerable countries, negotiations regarding the operationalisation of this fund feature high on the agenda of the Bonn Climate Change Conference.

Several Parties and Observers highlighted during the Second Glasgow Dialogue last week the already visible impacts of climate change on people and societies and raised the importance of preventing and responding to displacement through climate finance. As the Transitional Committee will continue its work this year to make recommendations on the operationalisation of the Loss and Damage Fund for consideration and adoption at COP28 in Dubai later this year, it is important to ensure displacement is recognized as a priority for loss and damage funding and that displaced people will have access to the Fund to restore their lives and livelihoods and move out of their displacement situations.

Here is why.

1. Displacement harms people’s agency, dignity and security  

Disasters, triggered by rapid-onset hazards and slow-onset environmental degradation, sweep away homes and livelihoods, forcing affected people to flee. Loss of and damage to houses, assets, livestock or incomes can usually be assigned monetary values, but displacement also has a number of less tangible consequences that money cannot buy back. Displaced people can suffer psychological impacts, disruption of social networks, loss of identity and sense of community, deterioration of their safety, ability to exercise their rights, access to education and healthcare.  

These impacts are felt differently across contexts and population groups, with women and girls, children and youth, people with disabilities, elderly persons, indigenous people and minority groups often most affected due to pre-existing vulnerabilities. Increased data collection and analysis are required to better document and understand losses and damages suffered by displaced populations and inform tailored policies and assistance. 

2. Displacement has multiple impacts on societies and economies

Displacement affects displaced people’s lives but can also host societies and communities left behind, and sometimes the wider economy. Displacement disrupts IDPs’ ability to earn an income, pay rent or taxes and contribute to their local economies. It also creates housing, healthcare, education or security needs that IDPs themselves, host communities, governments or aid providers have to pay for. While disaster displacement is a global phenomenon, low-income countries suffer more from its economic consequences that can amount to a significant portion of their GDP. IDMC estimated for instance that Afghanistan lost over $418 million in 2021 as a result of the displacement of 1.4 million people because of disasters, adding to the loss and damage caused by the disasters themselves.  

Economic losses and damages add up when people are uprooted for months, years or even decades and can hamper the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for entire societies. But the economic impacts of disaster displacement have not been properly assessed and the few figures available are highly conservative, as they do not account for longer-term consequences and effects on host communities. Funding to avert, minimize and address loss and damage should support further research efforts to assess displacement’s economic impact and include them into preparedness, contingency and development plans. 

3. Preventing and preparing for displacement is key to avert and minimise losses and damages

In some cases, displacement can have a risk reduction value when in the form of well prepared and managed evacuation processes, which allow to move people and assets out of harm’s way and reduce disaster losses and damages. However, evacuations remain a traumatic experience and do not prevent people from suffering economic losses, health impacts or reduced safety in evacuation centers. To avoid losses and damages associated with the experience of displacement, the best way remains to invest in anticipatory measures to prevent displacement and in development solutions to avoid displacement becoming unnecessarily protracted.  

In regions highly exposed to disasters and the impacts of climate change, relying on humanitarian response to address disaster displacement and reduce associated losses and damages is unsustainable. While existing data is still insufficient to provide comprehensive assessments, it is estimated that 9.5 million people could be displaced by storm surges, floods, cyclones, earthquakes and tsunamis in Asia and the Pacific in any given year in the future. If every displaced person loses their income for just one day, with an average daily GDP per capita of $29 across the region, the loss will already amount to $275.5 million. Investing in climate change adaptation and mitigation, disaster risk reduction and development to build community resilience and reduce disaster and displacement losses could prove far less costly in the long term. The UN Early Warning for All initiative, aiming at ensuring every person will be protected by early warning systems by 2027, is a positive step in that direction.

IDMC is committed to informing concrete actions and policies to prepare for, prevent, address and resolve displacement in the context of disasters and climate change. Its work to model the risk of future displacement and partnership with CIMA Research Foundation to include projections on climate change will help assess people’s and countries’ vulnerability and exposure. We also support governments in developing national data systems to better monitor and account for displacement as an integral part of national disaster losses. Such data systems will also help countries report on their progress and seek assistance to address displacement and its associated losses and damages. We look forward to continuing to provide our data and expertise to support these efforts.