Five years after the adoption of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, taking action, both broadly in response to the climate emergency and more specifically in addressing internal displacement, is crucial. Equally important is doing so in a manner that supports the protection and fulfilment of the human rights of those who are most vulnerable to climate change impacts.  

Based on work led by the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights in the Asia and Pacific region, and with support from SEI, insights can be offered on how this might be done. 

These insights have emerged from our work in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, Thailand, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, where we mapped out the role of both disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) and human rights law and policy in responding to internal displacement. 

Five insights 

1. Wider implementation of frameworks to address internal displacement

Existing international frameworks such as the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement , the Mass Evacuations in Natural Disasters (MEND) Guide , and the Sphere Handbook are already well-known, but are only implemented at national levels. The principles contained in these frameworks are not understood by responders at local levels, meaning that actions during emergencies do not follow international standards. Within national policies, references to internal displacement are scattered throughout evacuation, reconstruction, and planned relocation documents. DRRM laws and institutions are also complicated. More importantly, local responders do not have adequate funding to prevent and prepare for displacement, protect vulnerable groups during evacuation and throughout displacement, and facilitate durable solutions.

2. Integration of internal displacement measures in policy

Internal displacement as a concept is not consistently integrated into the legal and policy frameworks on DRRM and is even less integrated into legal and policy documents focusing on climate change adaptation.

3. Factor in displacement insights from the ground

The Guiding Principles defines internally displaced people as those who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized State border, but this does not capture the complexity of internal displacement. A case study in Cambodia showed that those who stayed behind to protect property and take care of family members, and those who could not be evacuated, have been provided with no protection and assistance because they are not considered internally displaced.

4. Inclusion of people with differential abilities and needs

The logics of ableism and genderblindness dominate disaster risk reduction (DRR) frameworks, affecting the welfare of people with differential abilities and needs. The special needs of these people are not considered, especially in the design and operation of evacuation sites, which are not safe or comfortable for women, and in DRR interventions, which tend to privilege those who are able bodied. This leads to family members choosing to stay behind to support those who cannot be evacuated due to their disabilities, which creates different risks for them, as outlined in the previous pointSuch lack of appreciation of the unique needs of people with disabilities also extends to the elderly, children, LGBTQI people and women. Evacuation sites are not designed to cater to the needs of these groups. Women’s privacy in these sites is an issue and there have been reported instances of gender-based violence in evacuation sites. The needs of transgender people, the elderly and children are also not considered, leading to their discrimination and additional burdens for their carers, especially in the case of the elderly and children. Same-sex couples do not receive relief goods because their partnership is not recognized. There are also humanitarian practices that discriminate against women, such as the targeting of women in trainings, on the basis that men know what to do”without being mindful that these trainings could create added burdens in terms of the reproductive and care work of women. In addition, some cultural practices privilege men over women, such as in situations where men eat firstleaving women hungry, as well as in societies where the maledominated traditional chiefly system is still a recognized form of local governance, such as in Vanuatu. Women’s voices are not represented in this system.

5. Consider land rights and security of the displaced

Certain groups continue to experience protracted displacement in the wake of disasters, as they do not own the land to which they are relocatedthe places where they newly reside are informal settlements or the sources of their livelihoods are far from their resettlement sites. The tendency of internally displaced persons to return to exposed and vulnerable places where land is secure or income sources are available is an important concern and must factor into long-term humanitarian interventions.This brings home the point that those who are affected by disasters, and have to be relocated as a result, need to be represented and consulted in discussions about evacuations, in order to ensure that their concerns are understood and their needs and concerns are properly responded to. Both the Guiding Principles and the MEND Guide highlight the necessity of the free and informed consent of those being evacuated, and emphasize that evacuation must be “absolutely necessary.”

Finally, where displacement has occurred due to a disaster, efforts must be made to facilitate durable solutions for those who are affected. These include safe return, properly planned relocation, and availability of livelihood opportunities to sustain them beyond the emergency situation. This has been a challenge in many areas, as humanitarian interventions tend to be shortterm, and governments lack longterm plans and the resources necessary to address the needs of those who are internally displaced. The private sector and civil society have stepped in to assist, but due to the scale of the challenge, much remains to be done to ensure that solutions are durable and long-lasting. This is compounded by the increasing number of disasters which governments and humanitarian actors need to plan for and respond to. 

Thinking about these insights is important, given that we are not currently fulfilling the ambitions of the Paris Agreement. Recent analysis, such as that of the Climate Tracker , shows that we are heading towards a 2.9°C change based on current policies, or 2.7°C if current pledges and targets are met by 2100. The chasm between action and ambitions is wide andwhile it continues to grow, people are suffering, especially those in vulnerable places, conditions, or groups. The need to act and protect their rights to life and health is, therefore, urgent. 

Going forward 

The authors of this volume have established the Asia Pacific Academic Network on Disaster Displacement to advance research, policy engagement, and capacity building on internal displacement in the region. The network has so far made submissions, based on the insights of this volume, to the UN High Secretary General’s Level Panel on Internal Displacement and the Consultation on Displacement in the Context of the Slow-Onset Adverse Effects of Climate Change led by Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons . Integrating these insights in future blended learning courses to be administered in selected countries in the region is another major plan. 


Download: Chapter 1 – Internal displacement in the context of disasters and climate change in Asia and the Pacific: Introduction to the volume