As UN member states meet to discuss the Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees, it is essential that they consider the specific needs of individuals impacted by natural disasters and the adverse effects of climate change. Those moving across international borders in the context of disasters and climate change do not always fall neatly within existing definitions of refugees and migrants, leaving the most vulnerable individuals without sufficient protection and at risk of human rights violations.
In November, Refugees International carried out a mission to Puerto Rico to investigate the U.S. response to Hurricane Maria. Our team found the response by federal and Puerto Rican authorities was still largely uncoordinated and poorly implemented, prolonging the humanitarian emergency on the ground. Thousands of people still lack sustainable access to potable water and electricity and dry, safe places to sleep.
Six months ago, Hurricane Matthew slammed into southwestern Haiti, killing hundreds and affecting 2.1 million people, 20 percent of the country’s population. Despite the extent of devastation and acute vulnerabilities among the affected population, the disaster failed to attract both the financial support and attention it deserved from the international community.
In the summer of 2015, Myanmar experienced massive floods and associated landslides that affected nine million people. Since then, the country has seen dramatic political change, while confronting a litany of ongoing humanitarian crises. As the government strives to juggle humanitarian needs with longer-term development issues, it must confront its extreme vulnerability to disasters and climate change.
At present, Zimbabwe’s future appears precariously poised on an edge. Two consecutive years of poor rains, compounded by El Niño, have resulted in the worst drought in 35 years. It is estimated that more than four million people will require emergency humanitarian aid to get them through to the end of the lean season in March 2017. Exacerbating the situation is the regional nature of the drought, along with an economic crisis, a shortage of cash, and growing political tensions.
In July, Myanmar was hit by its worst flooding in decades displacing over one million
people. Impacts on agriculture – the backbone of the country’s economy and main source
of livelihood for millions of rural poor – were massive. The government’s decision to accept the international community’s offer of assistance presented an unprecedented opportunity to build trust and resilience among affected communities, especially in poor and conflict-ridden areas. Unfortunately, an underwhelming response resulted in missed opportunities. With recent assessments indicating that the disaster’s worst impacts have yet to manifest, a lack of strong support for recovery could have long-lasting impacts on poverty and migration.
In November 2013, the strongest typhoon on record tore a path of destruction across the central Philippines, displacing four million people. In the disaster’s wake, the government adopted an ambitious plan to relocate 200,000 households away from at-risk coastal areas and resettle them out of harm’s way. While well-intentioned as a strategy to mitigate displacement from future typhoons and climate change, observations to date suggest that without sufficient planning and safeguards, government-led resettlement is a highly risky undertaking that threatens to prolong displacement and leave affected populations more, not less, vulnerable.
On November 8, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan tore a path of destruction across the Philippines. While the emergency response was successful in providing life-saving assistance, three months on, humanitarian needs remain enormous, especially with respect to the restoration of people’s livelihoods. A lack of robust early recovery programs has left hundreds of thousands of people reliant on aid, and points to a broader problem regarding the overall efficacy of the UN’s early recovery approach to large-scale, sudden-onset natural disasters.