Experts tell govts to prepare citizens as region is among world’s worst-affected
International and regional researchers at a Panel Discussion organized by SEA Junction in Bangkok have urged governments in Southeast Asia to prioritise creating climate change resilience for their citizens, as the region faces risks of more greater and more intense natural disasters.
Disasterscan can displace people from their homes and exacerbate poverty and insecurity, while Disaster displacement is one of the biggest humanitarian challenges of the 21st century, as worsening climate change scenario would intensify natural disasters around the world, not only displacing people from their habitats but also devastating important agricultural areas and harming food security.
Andreea R Torre, research fellow at the Stockholm Environment Institute – Asia Centre (SEI – Asia), referred to recently published figures from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) to show how Southeast Asia and the Pacific suffer the most from disasters. About 8.6 million people were displaced due to weather hazards in 2017 in East Asia and the Pacific accounting for about 46 per cent of the total number displaced globally.
Major natural disasters took the form of floods, typhoons, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, drought and landslides that posed a hazard to habitat and the livelihood of people in Southeast Asia, notably in Indonesia and the Philippines.
Torre said natural disasters had already become the biggest reason for mass migration worldwide, not only in Southeast Asia. IDMC revealed that 61 per cent of new displacements in 2017 had been triggered by natural disasters, surpassing warfare and political conflict, which contributed to only 39 per cent of mass migration.
According to the IDMC, in 2017 alone more than 18.8 million people across the world were forced to migrate due to natural disasters, while weather-related hazards contributed to a majority of the migration from disaster – 8.6 million people globally were displaced by floods and 7.5 million people were displaced by storms.
Out of the overall disaster-related displacements, China had the highest proportion of new victims, at 4.4 million people. The Philippines ranked second with more than 2.5 million displaced by disasters last year. Meanwhile, it was estimated that up to 50,000 people also had to leave their homes due to natural disasters last year in Thailand.
“With the increasing environmental stress and wider market-oriented development changes, extreme weather will be more common, which in turn will contribute to greater impacts on a higher number of the population, especially those living in vulnerable areas and already struggling with issues of inequality, social equity and poverty” Torre said.
She said more severe floods, drought, storms, salinity intrusion and increasing seawater levels are among the major environmental threats to these fertile lands that also have a very high population density.
’Prepare for the worst’
“If we fail to address combined economic, political, biophysical and social factors that drive vulnerability and inequality, such as urban unemployment, precarious housing, weak rights to natural and social resources, we are also limiting peoples’ ability to react to hazards. Disasters, after all, are not natural!”
Referring to “Living With Floods in a Mobile Southeast Asia”, a recent publication to which researchers from SEI-Asia and Chulalongkorn University contributed, Torre stressed how policy and disaster responses centering mainly, if not only, on relocation or disaster risk mitigation are likely to fail in the long term. To be successful in reducing vulnerabilities, these actions must consider, among others, mobility patterns and causes, livelihood strategies as well as historical sources of poverty and inequality.
Emma Porio, professor of Sociology at Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines, revealed that not only did the refugees from natural disasters face distress from displacement, they were also driven into poverty and insecurity in every aspect of their lives.
Porio said that after the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan and Tropical Storm Kai-tak, the heaviest-hit population group was the poor, as they had to relocate from their destroyed hometowns to Manila and ended up in desperate and overcrowded slums in the Manila metropolitan area.
“The quality of life of these displaced people was drastically degraded, as most of them do not have access to basic education, healthcare, and employment, which drives them deeper into poverty,” she said.
“Therefore, the government needs to prioritise mitigating this issue and come out with strategies to handle displacement from disasters and prevent social insecurities among the refugees from climate change by empowering the communities to have more ability to cope with more intense disasters.”