Study on natural disasters: more devastating than bombs

In 2013, more people worldwide had to flee storms, earthquakes and other extreme weather events than warlike conflicts.

Experts expect more disasters in the future. Image: dpa

Crises in South Sudan, Syria, Iraq – the year 2013 was rich in conflicts. However, most people lost their homes to natural disasters: According to a study by the non-governmental organization Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), the consequences of extreme weather events such as storms, earthquakes and mudslides deprived three times as many people of their homes in 2013 as conflicts. 22 million were thus displaced from their homes.

Developing countries are particularly affected, according to the study. Since 2008, more than 80 percent of displacements have been caused by natural disasters in Asia. In 2013, the most affected regions were in the Philippines, China, India, Bangladesh and Vietnam.

However, the problem is global, says Alexandra Bilak, a staff member of the Observatory for Disaster Management (IDMC). In North and South America, for example, hurricanes and earthquakes repeatedly cause massive damage.

According to the study, smaller but more frequently recurring events such as floods are underestimated and insufficiently documented. One example of this is southern Sudan, says Bilak. There, people repeatedly have to flee their homes because of both floods and armed conflicts.

Urban dwellers could be particularly at risk in the future

The situation could get even worse: Experts expect increasingly extreme weather events due to climate change. In addition, more and more people in the world are living in cities. According to the study, the world’s population has grown by 96 percent in the last 40 years, and the urban population by 187 percent.

For them, it could be particularly dangerous: Urban centers become a trap during natural disasters, says Jan Egeland, secretary of the Norwegian Refugee Council, in the British daily Guardian. Because people live together in a confined space, there are no means of escape, he adds.

With the study, the Refugee Council wants the UN climate conference in Lima, Peru, in December to seek solutions for better protection against the natural disasters. Among other things, the Refugee Council is calling for disaster plans for slums. What is needed is better risk management and longer-term support for those affected, says Bilak.

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