Right now, deadly weather is battering the people of Bangladesh and Myanmar as Cyclone Mahasen made landfall yesterday. With seven confirmed dead and one million people in Bangladesh ordered to evacuate, some of Myanmar’s most vulnerable, those who have already fled violence in the country’s north-west, have had to move again due to yet another disaster.
Ahead of the Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction next week in Geneva, the situation of Myanmar’s violence-displaced adds ever greater urgency to the need for governments to improve disaster risk reduction efforts for IDPs vulnerable to further displacement.
A perfect storm of risk factors
Disasters often add to a perfect storm of risk factors that leads to escalating displacement figures. IDMC’s annual report on disaster displacement, released this week, highlights that one in four of all countries reporting new disaster displacement in 2012 are also conflict- or violence-affected. These people struggle against physical insecurity and lack of food, and often live in slums in areas highly exposed to floods and storm surges.
Up to 140,000 people displaced by inter-communal violence in 2012 live in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Most of them belong to the minority Rohingya and other Muslim communities. They reportedly live in overcrowded camps affected by numerous waterborne diseases, around half of which are in low-lying coastal areas. Conditions are especially dire in makeshift camps, where about 15,000 unregistered IDPs have had little or no access to assistance.
With Cyclone Mahasen predicted to make landfall on 16 May on the coast of Bangladesh, already suffering days of torrential rain and the subsequent destruction of homes in its coastal areas, the Government of Myanmar took action from 13 May to evacuate almost 78,000 to move to safer locations. With the help of UN agencies, many are expected to weather the storm; but their camps are likely to be devastated, leaving questions of where the displaced will go next.
The evacuation itself posed risks. On 13 May at least 50 IDPs from a camp in Pauktaw reportedly died at sea when their boat capsized.
Displaced again and again
Cyclones are no news in Myanmar. The population is exposed to a plethora of natural hazards – cyclone, flood, drought, earthquake, tsunami and wild fires. IDMC’s report this week reveals that a round 1.9 million people have been displaced by disasters in the country over the last five years (2008-2012).
Just last year, 86,000 were displaced by floods and a further 25,800 by an earthquake disaster in the country. In the south-west, people living in the Ayeyarwady delta face particularly high disaster risk. Many coastal communities became even more vulnerable following the devastation brought by the Cyclone Nargis disaster in 2008 along with Cyclone Giri that hit Rakhine state in 2010 that combined displaced over 1.6 million and 100,000 people, respectively.
The urgency to act to improve disaster preparedness and response
Government delegations will meet next week in Geneva at the annual Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, a forum for wide exchange on the latest developments with a view to strengthen coordination and implementation of disaster risk reduction. It is critical that among the outputs of the meetings is a vision to improve community-level disaster preparedness and response plans, as well as longer-term disaster risk reduction. This is necessary in all countries, but in particular – and often the lowest hanging fruit in terms of making real improvements quickly and cost-efficiently – those who are the most vulnerable to disasters.
This must include adequate protection and assistance for people already displaced by conflict and violence, as they are among the most exposed and vulnerable.
The situation of the Rohingya and others who had fled the violence in Rakhine State, who are being evacuated in the tens of thousands to escape their expose to an impending disaster, illustrates better than anything the urgency to act now.
Learn more about internal displacement in Myanmar
Learn more about disaster displacement
Anne-Kathrin Glatz, IDMC’s Country Analyst for Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh
Michelle Yonetani, IDMC’s Senior Advisor for Disasters
Julia Blocher, IDMC’s Communications Officer
Our colleague Justin Ginnetti, Policy and Research Advisor, was quoted last week in the Philippine Star as saying, ‘‘Filipinos are disproportionately affected by [natural] hazards as compared to other nations with comparable populations exposed to similar hazards.” Author of IDMC’s recent report on displacement due to natural disasters in the Philippines, Justin found that Filipinos living below the poverty line suffer the most from natural disasters, and much more so than in other countries due to socioeconomic vulnerabilities and a high level of disaster risk – to put this into context, Justin calculated that if two equally intense cyclones hit both the Philippines and Japan, 17 times more Filipinos than Japanese would be killed.
Today the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) applauds the government of the Philippines for approving a landmark piece of legislation that will protect the rights of millions of people living in or at-risk of displacement from natural disasters and conflict.
Yesterday, the Filipino Senate approved the Act Protecting the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (Senate Bill no. 3317), a bill that once implemented, should address many of the vulnerabilities highlighted by IDMC’s work on displacement in the Philippines. This piece of legislation represents the first of its kind in Asia and will help people made vulnerable by recurrent natural disasters, violence or armed conflict; it also brings attention to the rights of indigenous peoples and the specific vulnerabilities of women and girls. Once implemented, this law also sets out the role of the Philippine government and will help people displaced and at-risk of displacement to know and claim their rights.
Our colleague Frederik Kok, Senior Asia Analyst at IDMC, said; “This law is an important step in further strengthening the rights of IDPs in the Philippines. It is also significant that it recognises the importance of prevention from displacement and clearly sets out the responsibilities of the government to respond to the protection and assistance needs of IDPs. It serves as an example to other countries prone to violence and natural disasters, and a model that they could potentially adapt to their own contexts.”
A comprehensive bill that addresses both displacement due to disaster and conflict
Over the years, millions of people have been forced to flee from their homes because of flooding and landslides, mainly due to typhoons that regularly hit the region. A video released yesterday by IFRC highlights the challenges faced by people displaced by Typhoon Bhopa (Pablo), as they struggle to cope two months after the typhoon devastated the eastern part of the island of Mindanao last December, killing more than 1,000 people and causing the displacement of nearly one million people.
Added to this, millions have also been forced from their homes in the last decade because of the different armed conflicts on the island of Mindanao. Some people have languished in limbo for years; some are displaced for only a matter of days or weeks, but others have been displaced for months or longer with little prospect of finding long-term solutions. Even when they return home, many remain vulnerable to conflict and natural disasters – sometimes they are worse off than those still displaced, with little access to basic services such as education, health or clean water.
Research conducted in September 2012 across Mindanao identified over half a million people, individuals living in displacement or who had returned home, who were still in need of humanitarian aid and help to rebuild their lives. Nearly half had been affected by armed conflict. Most were located in Maguindanao the province that has been most disrupted by conflict, where an estimated 3 out of 4 families have been forced to flee twice or more in the past ten years. The landmark IDP law approved yesterday is a milestone for the Filipino people, and a concrete step towards greater protection of displaced people as well as foresight to address vulnerabilities and disaster risk.
As is true for many new legal frameworks for internal displacement, such as the Kampala Convention, the challenge is now one of implementation. Rules and regulations to translate the law into concrete action will be adopted in the two months following the publication of the law. Key to its success is to ensure that the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, the body mandated under the law to become the institutional focal point on IDPs, is provided with adequate political authority and resources to carry out its new role, but also that the authorities at the local level receive the proper training and guidance to ensure they can effectively enforce this ground-breaking new law.
For more on displacement in the Philippines, see our country page
To download the report, Disaster-induced internal displacement in the Philippines, click here