Disaster and Climate Change

Introduction to Displacement in Disaster and Climate Change

The Asia Pacific region is renowned for disaster occurrences, while also facing significant impacts due to a changing climate. The region’s communities have experienced significant displacement over recent years, accounting for over 60% of global disaster-related displacement in 2017, preceded by a staggering 83% in 2016. The details of the causes and reasons for such displacement are as diverse as the communities of Asia-Pacific themselves, however, all face similar risks towards their basic human rights when disaster and climate change forces them on the move.

Key Issues for Displacement in the context of disasters and climate change

Asia and the Pacific are disaster-prone regions – Climate change and disaster are intrinsically linked, with communities around the world facing increased risks – both direct and indirect – of disaster due to natural disaster and climate change. Nowhere is this case more relevant than within Asia-Pacific, as disasters strike with increasing strength and frequency across the region.

Slow-onset climate change forms an ongoing threat – Additionally, alongside extreme sudden hazards causing disaster, slower-onset climate change processes have increasingly significant impacts on communities. While both sudden and slow-onset occurrences are interlinked and dynamic in form, they are resulting in overall increases to population displacement within the Asia-Pacific region.

Disaster directly impacts basic human rights – The human rights of displaced peoples are impacted across two spheres – through direct impacts of disaster itself, and through the context of the resulting displacement. Disaster directly challenges basic rights, such as rights to life, water and sanitation, health and children’s education, many of which quickly disappear in the short time following disaster.

Being ‘On the Move’ amplifies risks – For communities displaced by disasters – or on the move following an event – risks to human rights are amplified. Alongside issues related to basic rights mentioned previously, people on the move experience challenges related to shelter and security, identification, and freedom or justice rights, while displaced communities are also vulnerable to ongoing rights violations as they settle in a new location.

Displaced persons experience a broad range of human rights violations – Displaced populations are more susceptible to violence, discrimination, abuse and human trafficking, while also facing engagement challenges from governments and communities in their new location. Issues can be systemic within the justice and protection approaches of different countries and regions, or specifically associated to socio-economic factors within each unique situation.

Recommendations for the region

People on the move should not be forced into passiveness or acceptance of any rights-based issues that may arise, and should maintain their position as right holders with the capacity to participate in decisions that affect them. Regional and national initiatives for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) are a strategic entry point for ensuring human rights-based approaches within disaster management, and there are a number of key areas that can support the Asia-Pacific region to ensure such approaches are beneficial.

  • Engage people at risk of displacement or already displaced in efforts that empower them to develop their own resilient and sustainable DRR strategies.
  • Increase the capacity of disaster management stakeholders – particularly government, civil society organisations and academic institutions – on the topic of human rights approaches for DRR programming.
  • Increase engagement, networking and knowledge exchange between stakeholders within the human rights and disaster management sectors, ensuring stronger sharing of knowledge and experience on human rights and gender-based approaches to displacement caused by climate change and disaster.
  • Develop and increase availability of research and practical tools – including teaching materials, modules and blended learning approaches – for human rights in the context of climate change and disaster, and ensure it is accessible to stakeholders on all levels.
  • Develop and strengthen the systems of transit or destination countries/regions to ensure increased stability for displaced people as well as their adopted communities in their new locations.

About RWI

The Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (RW) is an independent academic institution established in Sweden, with a mission to promote universal respect for human rights and humanitarian law. Engaged in Asia for over 25 years, RWI is a constructive and credible long-term partner for governments, institutes and rights-based community groups, and undertakes activities focused towards research, capacity development and overall human rights dialogue throughout the region.

The Asia and Pacific regions face significant challenges related to natural disaster, that when coupled with ongoing climate change events is resulting in significant instances of population displacement – or people on the move. Through its Regional Asia and Pacific Programme (RAPP) RWI is increasing focus towards this priority area, aiming to improve human rights outcomes for people displaced due to disaster and a changing climate.