Moneycontrol PRO
you are here: HomeNewsIndia

At 41.5 mn, India tops the list of disaster-related displacements in South Asia, says a new report

Annual economic losses caused by disasters in the Asia-Pacific were estimated to be around $780 billion as of 2021, equivalent to 2.5 percent of the regional GDP. In the worst case scenario, these losses could mount to $1.4 trillion

September 24, 2022 / 01:46 PM IST
People wade through flood waters in Solmara of Nalbari district, in India's Assam state on June 19, 2022.

People wade through flood waters in Solmara of Nalbari district, in India's Assam state on June 19, 2022.

At least 61.4 million people were displaced in South Asia between 2010 and 2021 because of natural disasters such as floods, cyclones, earthquakes, etc., with India topping the list with 41.5 million internal displacements, according to a new report.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) report, which studied displacements in Asia and Pacific, says South Asia accounted for the third-largest share of disaster displacements in the region during 2010-2021 as the impact of climate change deepened.

Most of the displacements in South Asia happened during the annual southwest and northeast monsoons, the report, titled ‘Disaster Displacement in Asia and the Pacific: A Business Case for Investment in Prevention and Solutions,’ says.

Monsoon shift

In recent years, the region experienced shifts in flood duration with the El Niño Southern Oscillation variation playing a role in their frequency and intensity, states the report, seen by this writer. The report is publicly available on ADB’s portal.

In 2021, La Niña had weakened the monsoon season in South Asia, because of which fewer people were forced out of their homes compared to previous years.

“However, in India the monsoon lasted from June to October last year — instead of September. It overlapped with the onset of the northeast monsoons, bringing unusually heavy rain and floods in southern states and triggering 312,000 displacements in Tamil Nadu in November,” the report says.

This year too, the monsoon has been pretty erratic and uneven in India, with some states battling a deluge while others are facing a deficit, which affected the sowing season and the kharif crop.

Though the India Meteorological Department (IMD) announced the withdrawal of the monsoon on September 20, a depression over the Bay of Bengal that moved northwards, coupled with a western disturbance, has brought in a fresh wet spell over northwest and other parts of India. The wet spell is expected to continue for the next couple of days, the IMD said in its bulletin.

On an average, nearly 90 percent of the displacements triggered by floods in Asia-Pacific took place between May and August. In South Asia, most flood-related displacements happened between May and September, with June and July the most affected, it says.

As climate change contributes to prolonged and erratic monsoons, the impact of seasonal flooding in South Asia may continue to have devastating consequences, the report warns. Climate change — combined with rapid urbanisation and other factors — may significantly increase future displacement risk and related costs.

"Asia-Pacific is the world's most rapidly urbanising region, and the expansion of cities in disaster-prone areas increases people's exposure to displacement," stated IDMC's global monitoring and reporting manager, Vicente Anzellini.

An UN Habitat report released in June this year had also warned that an increase in extreme weather and natural disasters such as flooding, heatwaves, and landslides will affect urban areas the hardest, making adaptation a matter of paramount importance.

Another report in Nature Communications in June said 1.81 billion people (23 percent of the world’s population) were directly exposed to 1-in-100-year floods, posing significant risks to lives and livelihoods, especially of vulnerable populations.

Last year’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report also warned of more frequent and intense heat waves, extreme rain, erratic monsoon, more cyclonic activity, and droughts in India.

"As the intensity and frequency of disasters are expected to increase, people uprooted from home will have less time to recover, potentially trapping them in cycles of prolonged or repeated displacement," Anzellini says.

Floods and storms top the list

This year too, very heavy pre-monsoon and monsoon rains triggered deadly floods and landslides across India, affecting millions of people in both urban and rural areas.

In nearby Pakistan, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced in one of the worst-ever floods since June. This year’s displacements do not figure in the report.

South Asia fared better than East Asia and Southeast Asia, which had the highest number of disaster displacements — nearly two-thirds of Asia and the Pacific’s total — between 2010-2021.

There were over 225 million internal displacements in Asia and the Pacific, which was more than three-quarters of the global total for this period. Weather-related hazards such as rain and storm were responsible for 95 percent (213.5 m) of all disaster displacements across the region between 2010−2021.

East Asia led with 75.9 million displacements or 33.7 percent of the total, followed by Southeast Asia with 69.2 million (30.7 percent). South Asia was third with 61.4 million (27.3 percent) of internal displacements between 2010-2021.

Within South Asia, 58.6 million were displaced due to weather-related events: 37.4 million of them due to floods and 21 million due to storms, including cyclones.

India (41.5 m displaced) was followed by Bangladesh with 14.1 million, Nepal with 3.3 million and Sri Lanka with 2.5 million internal displacements in South Asia.

Pakistan, which has been categorised in Central and West Asia, had 16.4 million displacements. In East Asia, China fared the worst of all with 70.4 million displacements.

Earthquakes triggered 2.9 million internal displacements in South Asia from 2010 to 2021, 92 percent of which took place during the Gorkha earthquake in Nepal in 2015.

Cyclone Amphan over the Bay of Bengal in May 2020 displaced nearly five million in India and Bangladesh.

Economic losses and the way forward

“Disaster displacement is already eroding development gains in Asia and the Pacific and threatens the long-term prosperity of the region,” said ADB’s chief of climate change and disaster risk management thematic group, Noelle O’Brien, in a statement. “We need to strengthen policies and action on disaster risk management to ensure the region doesn’t regress on its development goals.”

Annual economic losses caused by disasters in Asia-Pacific were estimated to be around $780 billion as of 2021, which is the equivalent of 2.5 percent of the regional gross domestic product (GDP), the report says. In the worst climate change scenario, these losses could increase to $1.4 trillion by the year 2059.

“Disasters are costing Asia and the Pacific hundreds of billions of dollars,” stated IDMC director Alexandra Bilak. “However, the ultimate cost still lies in the millions of lives that are affected by unmitigated disaster displacement every year.”

The report analyses the impact of disasters on each sub-region, and how displacement disproportionately affects vulnerable groups such as women, children, and the elderly.

Indigenous communities, among the worst affected, can play an active role in prevention, forecasting, and response as their in-depth understanding of the environment have long helped them battle disasters.

The ways forward suggested by the report include reviewing gaps in government efforts to monitor and address internal displacement, enhancing data collection and analysis to record the scale and severity, and developing policy frameworks to ensure immediate inclusive support to affected people.

The report suggests investing in the planning and financing of durable solutions, assessing the risk of future disaster displacement to develop prevention plans, and strengthening regional collaboration across Asia and the Pacific.

Nilutpal Thakur is an independent journalist and content creator based in Delhi
first published: Sep 24, 2022 01:46 pm