The Soaring Displacement from “Natural” Disasters

More people were displaced by conflict in 2013 than in any year since the Second World War. Yet, remarkably and tragically, almost three times as many, some 22 million, were displaced by natural disasters, a report from the Norwegian Refugee Council has documented. This is twice the corresponding number for the 1970s, with much of the increase attributable to the rise of hyperdense megacities, where the poor are particularly at risk. Extreme weather also drove the increase. Typhoon Haiyan displaced 4.1 million people in the Philippines, more than the total in Africa, the Americas, Europe, and Oceania combined. Seasonal floods caused much of the displacement in Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly Niger, Chad, Sudan, and South Sudan. These trends are likely to worsen as climate change increases the frequency of extreme weather events and cities grow amidst lingering poverty. Indeed, the term “natural disaster” is a misnomer since the vulnerability of the poor is a “social disaster” and the climate crisis is a “political disaster.” The displaced millions should remind us that the battles for economic justice and ecological preservation are intertwined.

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Journey to Earthland

The Great Transition to Planetary Civilization

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GTI Director Paul Raskin charts a path from our dire global moment to a flourishing future.

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