Global Homelessness Is on the Rise Due to Disasters

Photo: AP
Photo: AP

Around the world, 24.2 million more people became homeless last year—and disasters like floods, droughts, earthquakes, and tsunamis are to primarily blame.


The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, an international group that’s been monitoring the issue since 1998, released a report Friday that shows natural disasters—many of which are driven in part by climate change—are leading to, on average, 14 million people to become homeless each year. A number of overlapping and compounding factors are exacerbating this homelessness crisis.

As the report states:

It is important to recognize that climate change and variability is only one of a number of components in the complex and growing phenomenon of displacement associated with disasters. Risk drivers such as badly planned and managed urbanization, poverty and inequality and poor governance also play a significant role, and can change more quickly and have a greater influence on displacement risk and trends.


Most victims live in poor countries like India, China, and Bangladesh. Eight of the 10 countries that have seen the highest numbers of displacement are located in South and Southeast Asia. Islands like the Bahamas, Dominica, and Antigua and Barbuda are most vulnerable to displacement relative to population size.

The islands are tiny (some with populations no higher than 100,000), so they’re at risk of losing high portions of their population to displacement following a disaster. Hurricane Irma showed the world what that looks like firsthand: In Antigua, no residents remained as of September.

As the report notes, these natural disasters—be it an earthquake or tsunami—set displacement into motion, but more is at play. Like population growth: The developing world is seeing their urban centers grow at alarming rates with scarce land use planning to prepare for future disasters. Without reductions in poverty and inequality, a country isn’t as resilient to these events, especially when their government is unable to put its people back on their feet. Even wealthy countries aren’t safe from these patterns, as we saw with Hurricane Harvey and Houston where poorly planned development created circumstances that kept water from flowing out of the city during the rains.

“People displaced in these countries are likely to face more hardships while displaced and remain displaced for a longer period of time since governments have less ability to respond to the crisis,” the report states.


Floods were the main culprit in these figures, but tropical cyclones, earthquakes, and tsunamis have also hit these regions hard. This data doesn’t include the people displaced by rising sea levels, though, and that’s one of the biggest drivers of homelessness related to climate change.

Earlier this year, while the U.S. mainland and its territories were grappling with Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the developing world was witnessing their own barrage of disaster after disaster.


In Sierra Leone, a mudslide and flood killed more than 1,000 people in August. India, Bangladesh, and Nepal saw more than 1,200 die in August as a result of their brutal monsoon season. If the waters and storms killed that many people, imagine how many were left without homes. The Independent in the U.K. reported that millions were left homeless during that disaster.

The report barely mentions the United States, which will see 233,000 average annual displacements, mostly attributed to tropical cyclones, while a country like India will see that number soar above two million. China is certainly feeling the impacts of its coal legacy, but other countries like Vietnam and the Philippines aren’t even among the top 20 carbon emitters—but that doesn’t mean they won’t bear the consequences.


The report’s authors hope this new information can help policymakers implement the Paris Agreement. But they recognize that more is needed to protect these populations. Countries must take steps to build institutional capacity and reduce socioeconomic vulnerability so that they’re resilient and able to withstand such events.

Regardless, the developing world is bound to feel the brunt of global warming and the changing weather patterns that follow even though it’s contributed the least to it. And it’s going to cost money—money the Paris Agreement’s Green Climate Fund is supposed to allocate toward vulnerable countries that are least responsible for climate change, like the ones in the report.


Without U.S. support, though, the fund’s future might be in jeopardy.

Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.

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A nicely written problem definition. Sadly, this is the situation now and going forward. As far as policy goes, flip it on its ear. Tell the story in terms of the rich. They’re the ones making policy either directly or through foundations, both here and all over the world. Rich folks will lose money and security due to displaced peoples, i.e. less consumers consuming all that shit they’re getting rich off of. We won’t get decent policy for climate change adaptation or other natural disasters relief until the scions or their heirs of modern industrial capitalism become threatened. For instance, Alice Walton of the big box store billions, might rethink her philanthropy in less conceptual terms as far as educating poor kids in Chicago through leadership charter schools, when there’s cajons from the Louisiana bayou pitching tents on the lawn of her art museum in Arkansas.