Global internal displacement touches record high at 55 mn in 2020; Cyclone Amphan led to huge evacuations in India, says report

The catastrophic tropical cyclonic storm Amphan that hit India's eastern coast a year ago in May 2020 triggered more than 2.4 million evacuations in West Bengal and Odisha making it a major internal displacement exercise in the form of pre-emptive evacuation before the cyclone made landfall.

Cyclone Nisarga prompted another 1,70,000 evacuations in Maharashtra and Gujarat just two weeks later, said an Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) report on Friday.

Given its size and population, India is no stranger to massive internal displacements in the world and South Asia in particular.

"The majority of the displacements are triggered by flooding during the monsoon seasons. The country is also prone to other sudden and slow-onset hazards including earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones, storm surges and drought. Protracted conflict in Kashmir and localised inter-communal violence also trigger displacement every year, but to a much lesser extent," the global monitoring agency on internal displacements of people said.

The study claimed that widespread violent protests in 2020 because of the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act also forced over 1,800 people in Delhi to take shelter in camps.

According to the study, there were 3.9 million new disaster displacements in India in 2020, the result of a combination of increasing hazard intensity, high population exposure and high levels of social and economic vulnerability.

The IDMC said that the total number of people living in internal displacement globally reached a whopping 55 million by the end of 2020 in a year that was marked by intense storms and persistent conflict. The global monitoring agency said that 40.5 million new displacements were triggered across the world by disasters and violence, the highest annual figure recorded in a decade.

“It is particularly concerning that these high figures were recorded against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, when movement restrictions obstructed data collection and fewer people sought out emergency shelters for fear of infection,” said IDMC director Alexandra Bilak.

Escalating violence and the expansion of extremist groups in Ethiopia, Mozambique and Burkina Faso triggered some of the world’s fastest-growing displacement crises, the IDMC annual global report said. Long-running conflicts, such as those in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria and Afghanistan, also continued to force large numbers of people to flee.

“It’s shocking that someone was forced to flee their home inside their own country every single second last year. We are failing to protect the world’s most vulnerable people from conflict and disasters,” said the secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland.

Inclement weather conditions like the intense cyclone seasons in the Americas, South Asia and East Asia and the Pacific, and extended rainy seasons across West Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, uprooted millions of people.

Cyclone Amphan alone triggered around five million displacements across Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Myanmar. The Atlantic hurricane season was the most active on record with 30 named storms, including hurricanes Iota and Eta which affected 12 Central American and Caribbean countries.

Deepening the crisis for many the convergence of conflict and disasters led many people to be displaced for a second or even third time like those who fled flooding in Yemen had already been uprooted at least once by the country’s civil war.

The study claimed that 48 million people have fled conflict and violence, and seven million disasters, but given the incomplete data the latter is likely to be a significant underestimate.

“Today’s displacement crises arise from many interconnected factors, including climate and environmental change, protracted conflicts and political instability. In a world made more fragile by the COVID-19 pandemic, sustained political will and investment in locally-owned solutions will be more important than ever,” said Bilak.