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People displaced by natural disasters, climate change need better protection

Written by editor

BERN, Switzerland – Better protection is needed for people who are forced to flee their homes as a result of disasters or the effects of climate change.

BERN, Switzerland – Better protection is needed for people who are forced to flee their homes as a result of disasters or the effects of climate change. That is why in 2012 Switzerland and Norway launched a global consultation process (the Nansen Initiative), in order to better understand population movements caused by disasters and the effects of climate change and to identify measures to provide better protection for those affected.

The results of this consultation process – the Protection Agenda – are being presented in Geneva on 12 and 13 October 2015. In his opening address at the Nansen Initiative Global Consultation, Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter expressed satisfaction that the consultation process was able to heighten awareness of the situation these people face. The important thing now, he said, is for states to implement the agenda.

Every year millions of people are displaced because of natural disasters. From 2008 to 2014, 184 million people worldwide, i.e. 26 million per year – the equivalent of one person every second – had to abandon their homes because of floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts and other natural disasters. Most of those displaced find refuge in their own country, but others flee across borders. Climate change threatens to increase these numbers still further in the future. Measures are often lacking at the national and international levels to protect those affected or are inadequate.

Ways of filling this gap are explained in the “Agenda for the Protection of Cross-Border Displaced Persons in the Context of Disasters and Climate Change”, which will be discussed at the Nansen Initiative Global Consultation on 12 and 13 October by high-ranking government representatives, regional and international organisations and experts from all over the world. For example, preventative measures need to be strengthened in the countries of origin of the displaced persons. These include the elaboration of contingency scenarios for disasters as well as the planned relocation of people living in vulnerable areas, such as close to the coast or on small islands under threat of rising sea levels.

The three-year consultation process was launched at the initiative of Switzerland and Norway, and supported by a group of directly affected or interested states: Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Mexico, Australia, Germany, Kenya and the Philippines. Technical oversight of the initiative was provided by Swiss human rights expert Walter Kälin, who led the consultation process as Envoy of the Chairmanship of the Nansen Initiative.

“The consultations in the most affected regions have confirmed that cross-border displacement as a result of natural disasters is a real problem,” said Mr Kälin. At the same time, the consultations have shown significant regional diversity in terms of the type of natural hazards faced and the possible solutions to them. Accordingly it is clear that there is no single solution, but that regional approaches are needed.

The Protection Agenda also maintains that in order to form a comprehensive and coherent approach, measures are needed to reduce vulnerability and build resilience to natural disasters at the local level, as well as migration opportunities, planned relocation from vulnerable zones and protection of internally displaced persons.

As emphasized by Mr Burkhalter in his opening speech, only with such a broad-based approach can protection be improved for those affected: “The agenda is also an invitation to learn from others’ experiences, building on existing measures and strengthening cooperation – also in terms of international solidarity”.

Switzerland will also continue to be an active proponent of the issue after the Nansen Initiative in its present form is finalised. For example, there is the intention to establish a group of states to further the work of the Nansen Initiative and drive the implementation of the Protection Agenda. Switzerland will be actively involved in such a group of states and aims to ensure that cooperation between international organisations is strengthened in the relevant areas.