Millions of internally displaced people who have been displaced from their homes by floods, storms and wars are now at risk of a pandemic.
According to a report released on Tuesday by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC), extreme weather conditions displaced 24 million people in their countries in 2019. Conflicts and other disasters driving another 9.5 million people from their homes.
Floods and storms – particularly hurricanes, typhoons and hurricanes – displaced 10 million and 13 million people respectively, with forest fires, droughts, landslides and temperature extremes contributing to a further 900,000 displacements. About a million people fled from volcanoes and earthquakes.
Some who flee or are later evacuated return to their homes, but the total number of displaced has risen to its highest level over the years. Approximately 51 million people are displaced, many in overcrowded camps with poor sanitation.
Now they have a pandemic to deal with. Large number of internally displaced people live in conditions that will make it easier for the coronavirus to spread, said IDMC director Alexandra Bilak. “How do you tell people to stay at home when their homes have been destroyed by disaster?”
Global crises such as climate change, forced migration and the coronavirus feed off each other in unexpected ways. They create “perfect storms that hit people a lot harder,” said Maarten Van Aalst, director of the Red Climate Center at the Red Cross and Red Crescent. For example, physical distance rules to contain the virus could leave school gymnasiums and church halls less able to protect storm victims and prevent governments from packing people on buses and protecting them from danger. For people forced into camps or displaced in slums, there is not enough soapy water to keep diseases at bay. The impact of several crises is bigger than the sum of each of the shocks separately, said Van Aalst.
When the shocks are of a different nature, “people feel they’re getting hit from all sides.”