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Natural Disasters Displace 32 Million in 2012

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Joe DeCapua
A new report says more than 32-million people were forced to flee their homes in 2012 due to natural disasters. Most of the displacement occurred in developing countries, but even rich nations, like the United States, were not spared.


Nature had a lot of people on the run last year.

“In 2012, we saw twice as many people being displaced by natural disasters as compared to the year before. So that was 32.4 million who were newly displaced in 2012. And this is by rapid onset disasters, such as floods, storms, wildfires and earthquakes,” said Clare Spurrell, chief spokesperson for the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.

And these extreme events are becoming much more frequent in many countries.

“In the last five years,” she said, “three quarters of the countries, which reported disaster displacement, were affected by multiple displacement events. So this means that millions of people throughout the world are often being displaced again and again and again in this context.”

Also in the last five years, more than 80 percent of global displacement occurred in Asia. India is often the worst affected.

“India suffered the world’s largest displacement in 2012 due to repeated and relentless flooding, which was further compounded again by inter-communal tensions. So in India we saw six-point-nine million people displaced by monsoon floods in the northeast,” she said.

Africa saw a record number of newly displaced people last year – eight-point-two million.

Spurrell said, “Significant to this figure was displacement caused by floods in Nigeria, which was the second largest disaster displacement event in 2012 just behind the flood disasters in northeast India. So the floods in Nigeria were really the most devastating in the country’s history -- and particularly affected the populated areas of the vast river plains of the Benue and Niger, destroying houses, bridges, farmland, killing numerous cattle.”

About one-quarter of the countries reporting new displacement in 2012 were also affected by conflict. She said that it’s become a common theme.

“In conflict affected countries, what you often see is that disasters add into sort of a perfect storm, if you like, of risk factors that lead to escalating displacement figures. So for example, in Pakistan or South Sudan, people are already struggling against food insecurity and conflict. People are then faced with severe floods and storms. They’re already struggling against compounding effects of various variables, which include hunger, poverty and violence,” she said.

Rich nations also saw displacement as a result of natural disasters. For example, in the U.S., 900-thousand people were forced to flee their homes last year, mostly due to Hurricane Sandy. In 2011, many people were displaced by Japan’s triple disaster of a major earthquake, tsunami and the resulting nuclear plant emergency.

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