Mapping The 31 Million People Displaced By Natural Disasters So Far

This is what it looks like when floods, hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons force millions of people to flee their homes.

When natural disasters strike, people are forced move. The map here shows all the people displaced in 2012—mostly from floods, hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones. The map was created by Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, which for the last five years has been tracking movements following disasters.

You can see, for example, that monsoon floods displaced 1.9 million people in Pakistan, and that Hurricane Sandy caused 776,000 people in the U.S. to be evacuated. More than 32.4 million were displaced in 2012, with a good chunk of that coming in northeast India (6.9 million) and Nigeria (6.1 million), both of which saw major flooding. Over the last five years, Asia has seen 81% of the displacement, with five countries consistently seeing the most: China, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Nigeria.

N.R.C. attributes 98% of the disasters to "climate- and weather-related events." It expects things to only get worse as climate change increases "the frequency and severity of weather-related hazards."

Both rich and poor countries are affected by extreme weather, but the former will cope better, it notes. "In the U.S. following Hurricane Sandy, most of those displaced were able to find refuge in adequate temporary shelter while displaced from their own homes," says Clare Spurrell, spokesperson for the group, in a press release. "Compare this to communities in Haiti, where hundreds of thousands are still living in makeshift tents over three years after the 2010 earthquake mega-disaster, and you see a very different picture."

It’s bad enough that climate change will cause forced movement and migration. It’s deeply unfair that the poorest will see the worst of it.

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  • I'd like to share a statement from the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters recent report. It states, “From a disasters analysis point of view, population growth and patterns of economic development are more important than climate change or cyclical variations in weather when explaining this upward trend [# affected and # of deaths due to climate-related disasters]. "Today, not only are more people in harm’s way than there were 50 years ago, but building in flood plains, earthquakes zones and other high-risk areas has increased the likelihood that a routine natural hazard will become a major catastrophe.” [ http://reliefweb.int/report/world/human-cost-natural-disasters-2015-global-perspective ]

  • Ben Schiller

    Thanks for the comments. We've changed the headline slightly, to reduce the emphasis on climate change. Of course, not all displacement last year is attributable to this. Apologies for the error. 

  • Michael Whalen

    from your home is a stressful, troublesome, disturbing and sometimes
    traumatic event. It is ranked at the top every stress scale.
    Imagine 31 Katrina events or 44 superstorm Sandy’s. That is what this
    map indicates occurred to people across the globe in 2012. I
    had a personal experience of being displaced in 2004. Hurricane Charley
    was prognosticated to hit Tampa Bay. It was the first of many storms
    that year and also the first for me as a person living on a barrier
    Island in Indian Rocks Beach, Fl. I had packed up some
    belongings, covered my bookcases and other furniture in tarps on the my
    second floor apartment and headed to a friends house on the mainland
    where I would help to prepare and would stay for the duration of the
    storm. I had felt carefree, and strangely jubilant, singing
    along with Jimmy Buffet: ‘I don’t know where I’m a gonna’ go when the
    volcano blows!’. Things changed after I left and headed inland. I
    remember thinking: “When I go over this bridge I will have left behind
    everything except what is in the back seat of my Toyota Corolla!” It was
    a sobering shift. I was lucky. Charley and every other of
    the 28 named storms that year passed us by; a couple in near misses.
    Still, I was deeply affected by the experience. I had PHSD – Post
    Hurricane Stress Disorder – for over a year. My baseline anxiety was
    raised all the time. Anytime the weather radar showed a spiraling
    circular pattern, I would go on a kind of alert. I knew what
    devastation could be like. As a emergency mental health volunteer I had
    witnessed the amazing destruction of Hurricane Andrew in the Homestead,
    Fl area in 1994. Total devastation is some areas. Homes, cars, large
    trucks damaged and destroyed. Mobile homes turned into puffs of
    insulation and twisted fragments of metal. Also, an un-named tropical
    storm was centered over Tampa and had dumped 14 inches of rain in a
    couple of hours which had flooded the flat roof of my building, breaking
    the downspout connections and causing significant flooding in my
    apartment. So, I had some small idea of storm damage effects.
    So, 32 million persons experiencing some level of displacement due to
    weather related disasters is a major impact. Larger than the direct
    result current war actions, I would bet. Ok, so build your
    resilience now. Hurricane Season started today, June 1, 2013. Plan and
    Prepare, it will pay dividends if need be... hopefully not.
    In a larger sense what we are seeing is that climate change is current
    reality. Some places will be harder hit than others, some people will
    have more resources than others, some will have better plans.
    Everyone will feel the impact of the suffering. Don’t do it alone.
    Talk to someone about the grief you feel from witnessing the suffering
    of the Earth and its inhabitants. It will help you to acknowledge your
    feelings and understand that you are giving voice to the pain of the
    earth and its systems through our interconnectedness will take your pain
    and help you to heal. Not feeling, being numb or pushing away will
    only result in depression, further suffering, addictive impulses, and
    feeling un-alive. Go to “Therapist’s Council for Environmental and
    Economic Consciousness” Facebook page to get more info and to find a
    therapist who is familiar with the issues of climate change impact on
    mental health.

  • Jim Letourneau

    How about disaster displacement over time? Displacement from Kyushu floods is nothing new. The 1953 event displaced over a 1,000,000 people. In 2012 it was 250,000 according to your work. What if this trend continues?

  • Caitlin

    Well said, EdBo. Articles like this remove credibility from the climate change argument as a whole.

  • philvich

    i was going to post a comment, but then i read edbo's comment.  he very accurately and succintly summed up the problem with chicken littles that post articles like this.  if an 8th grader wrote a science paper like this article, i would give it a D. 

  • EdBo

    Simply counting displaced people from weather events and ascribing it all to "climate change" is completely invalid analytically. The key word is "change". How has this changed?
    What is your baseline against which you are noting change here. It seems that your baseline, by implication, is zero, which is completely absurd. There have always been people displaced by extreme weather events.
    Furthermore, you would need to adjust for increasing population, and population changes in vulnerable areas, in any proper analysis of change.
    You are aware that the IPCC now says they cannot attribute any changes in extreme weather events to climate change, aren't you? They even say that they don't know the "sign" of the change, that is, whether it is increasing or decreasing.
    You should withdraw this horribly inaccurate article

  • Michael Whalen

     You bring up a good point Edbo, this article does not distinguish between older and new statistics regarding the number displaced by direct effects of climate *change*.  However, that does not dispute the fact that over 31 million people were displaced due to weather events in 2012.

    Additionally, your comment ignores the fact that there is no doubt that these extreme events are on the rise. Yes, the impacts of many of these disaster events is magnified due to the population densities which have consistently increased and will continue to do so as population grows.  Many of those affected in the early stages of climate change are those located in coastal areas a flood plains. These are areas more likely linked to subsistence fishing and farming. It is not a question of if, but when, these extreme events will hit major population areas.  But this calls for more awareness and action to prevent further ecological deterioration, not less.

    Your assertion about the IPCC no longer attributing climate change to human activity is incredible and unsubstantiated.  Please include references to back up your claim.

    In any case, no matter what argument you and the other posters here make, the fact you are choosing to ignore is that over 31 million of your fellow human beings have been put in positions of suffering.  775,000 of those were in the 4 U.S. States affected by superstorm Sandy.  These are real people who are not a political argument, they are the object of our compassion.

    You may choose to ignore species loss, melting ice caps, raising sea levels, rising global temperatures, the increasing level of CO2 density in the atmosphere, ocean acidifcation, the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events; you can argue the causation, but, in my view, you cannot ignore the human suffering this map suggests without risking disowning a vital part of yourself - your compassion.