LONDON (AlertNet) - Last year saw the fewest disasters of any year in the past decade but was also the most expensive, costing some $365.5 billion – most of it caused by the Japanese quake and tsunami, according to a report by the Red Cross and the Red Crescent.
Some 31,105 people were killed in 336 natural disasters - including quakes, floods, droughts and storms - and 209 million other people were affected, according to the 2012 World Disasters Report.
The number of deaths was far lower than the preceding year when disasters claimed 297,730 lives – most of them in the January 2010 Haiti earthquake.
The report also takes an in-depth look at forced migration, calling on governments and humanitarian organisations to do more to address the needs of the growing numbers of people displaced by conflict, disasters, political upheaval and large development projects.
More than 72 million people, over one in every 100 of the world’s citizens, are now forcibly displaced, according to the World Disasters Report, the flagship publication of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
Of these, an estimated 20 million are in a state of protracted displacement. But the IFRC said there was growing resistance among politicians and their citizens to supporting people forced to flee their homes.
IFRC Secretary General Bekele Geleta urged governments to adopt new policies that recognise the rights of migrants and “help them become productive members of communities, and not social pariahs”.
The report suggests that governments consider introducing more flexible forms of citizenship and a more relaxed approach to cross-border movements as well as easing work restrictions and doing more to help migrants integrate quickly with the communities hosting them.
Forced migration is costing the international community at least $8 billion a year, the IFRC added.
“The figures alone compel attention. But it is the human costs of forced migration – destroyed livelihoods, increased vulnerability,… lost homelands and histories, fractured households and disempowered communities … – which require urgent solutions and decisive action,” Geleta wrote in an introduction to the report.
Other key points:
Health: The report says camp life “is toxic from a health perspective”. The risk of sexual and domestic abuse often increases dramatically in camps, and this may also lead to a rise in HIV/AIDS.
The IFRC says reproductive, maternal and child health is relatively neglected and must be made a priority. It also highlights the prevalence of mental health problems among displaced communities and the need for psychosocial support.
Urban areas: Communities forcibly displaced by disasters or conflict are increasingly ending up in urban areas, not in refugee camps. They may face a ‘secondary disaster’ from living in informal settlements which lack services and lie in areas vulnerable to floods or other disasters.
The report calls for governments and humanitarian groups to develop policies ensuring better protection for these communities, which are often particularly vulnerable to violence and crime.
Development projects: Development is a major, but often ignored cause of displacement. It is estimated that at least 15 million people a year are displaced by projects like dams and urban renewal schemes, but this is likely an underestimate because governments usually avoid collecting this type of data, the IFRC says.
Although major construction projects may include resettlement schemes, people usually lose out economically when they move and suffer from the break-up of social networks. Others who are marginalised - because of gender, race, caste or age – may miss out on compensation.
The report says aid agencies, which have experience in responding to displacement caused by disaster and conflict, must improve their understanding of displacement resulting from development schemes. It also urges governments to introduce laws and policies that uphold the rights of those displaced by such projects.
Who pays? In 2010, international humanitarian assistance to refugees and internally displaced people exceeded $8 billion. This figure represents only funding from main donor countries and does not include money spent by host governments or private funding to non-governmental organisations.
Between 2006 and 2010, about 5 percent of official development assistance went to forced migrants and host communities. But the report says there is little economic analysis of results. No business would escape this scrutiny, it adds.
The report says there should be more emphasis on providing longer-term development funding to meet the needs of displaced people and local communities. It says aid agencies and others should look at humanitarian crises as development opportunities.