Every 2 seconds, climate change is forcing someone from their homes, according to data from Oxfam International. These climate-fueled disasters are the number one cause of internal displacement globally. More than 20 million people have lost their homes. This translates to one person every two seconds. Oxfam International spoke at the UN Climate Summit in Madrid in 2019 and showed that the number of climate-related weather disasters that left people homeless has increased “five-fold over the last decade.” People today are at least 7 times more likely to be internally displaced (left homeless) due to cyclones (hurricanes for those of us along the Gulf and East Coasts of the US), floods, and wildfires as they are by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
That data actually hits home for me because I lost half of everything I owned when I lived in Houston (due to Hurricane Harvey) and was evicted from my apartment in Shreveport when my landlord rented my apartment and his entire building to Kevin Costner when he was was forced to relocate the filming of his movie The Guardian from New Orleans due to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita back in 2005.
People say, “well, just move,” but that isn’t the answer. If it was, no one would live in places that are prone to these types of disasters. Recently, floods in Europe and wildfires in Australia have displaced countless people. Oxfam’s analysis shows that those in poorer countries who bear the least responsibility for global carbon pollution are the most at risk. It is as if the poor are paying the price for those who wreak havoc on our world – -they are paying with their lives and livelihoods due to how big oil & gas, big coal, and other industries/companies treat our environment. Rich populations benefit the most from the resource use, while poor populations suffer the most from the consequences. It is a double assault on the idea of equity.
“Our governments are fuelling a crisis that is driving millions of women, men and children from their homes and the poorest people in the poorest countries are paying the heaviest price.” —Chema Vera, Acting Executive Director of Oxfam International
The Oxfam analysis shows that economic losses due to extreme weather disasters over the last decade were equal to 2% of the affected countries’ national income. That number is larger for many developing countries. It jumps up to 20% for Small Island Developing States.
Oxfam’s briefing, Forced From Home, highlights that many poor countries face simultaneous and inter-related risks from conflict as well as climate. Somalia saw 7.5% of its population (over a million) newly displaced by extreme weather events such as floods and drought. Conflict in 2018 was another contributing factor.
I remember, vividly, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It showed that we in America had a lot to work on, but compared to poorer countries, it could have been worse. Yes, almost 2,000 people died in Hurricane Katrina, but 234,000 people died in the 2004 tsunami that struck Indonesia the year before. I am not downplaying any deaths, just showing the comparisons in scale — America always has a way of surviving these types of disasters better than other, poorer countries. I got through being displaced due to the generosity of others. Many other countries that suffer these types of disasters are quickly and often forgotten by the press and the general collection of the world months later.
I remember the stories of half-eaten human bodies in the water floating alongside cottonmouths and gators. I remember one friend who was volunteering at temporary shelters and hospitals that were taking in evacuees. She described a scene where someone who had been trapped in the water for days was brought in. This person had black mold embedded in their skin from the neck down. I had friends in the National Guard who also were horrified. One had to recover the bodies. Another did search and rescue and often times found bodies.
There are many horror and survival stories not just from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Andrew, Maria and others, but also other types of disasters. The Bahamas are still devastated from their last hurricanes.
Oxfam’s briefing also shows that it is the poorest in society who are the most vulnerable to climate-fueled displacement. In March of 2019, Cyclone Idai displaced 51,000 people in Zimbabwe, and those who were the most affected were living in the rural areas of either Chimanimani and Chipinge. These areas have poor infrastructure and housing and were unable to withstand the heavy rains and wind. Another thing noted by Oxfam was that displaced women are even more vulnerable and face high levels of sexual violence.
In their notes to editors, Oxfam lists 10 countries that are the most at risk of climate-fueled displacement.
- Saint Maarten
- Sri Lanka
Graph & chart courtesy Oxfam
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