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Africa: Extreme Weather Was the Biggest Reason for People to Flee Homes in 2020

London — Wilder weather linked to climate change caused 98% of last year’s displacements, with many from short-term evacuations but others lasting months or longer

Extreme weather linked to climate change and mass evacuations to protect those at risk are driving a global surge in families forced from their homes, with a share remaining displaced long-term, analysts said on Thursday.

About 98% of new movements of people from their houses in 2020 were caused by extreme weather, the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) said in a report.

Some of them were able to return home quickly after evacuations, said Alexandra Bilak, IDMC’s director.

But from Australian families who lost houses to record bushfires to Pacific islanders slammed by Cyclone Harold and the five million South Asians evacuated ahead of Cyclone Amphan last year, a growing share are struggling to recover and return.

“Displacement can last for months or even years,” Bilak told reporters during an online event. She said rich countries were increasingly experiencing a share of the displacement, such as U.S. families hit by worsening Atlantic hurricanes.

Even for those evacuated from their homes temporarily, Bilak said “it still does represent a shock”.

Globally, about 55 million people remained displaced within their own countries at the end of 2020, a record high, researchers found.

Most of them had been forced from their homes by violence in earlier years, though ongoing conflicts swelled the numbers last year, Bilak said.

Ethiopia saw half a million new displacements triggered by violence in 2020, particularly in the Tigray region, while internal displacement has risen 10-fold in Burkina Faso over the last two years, to more than a million people, she said.

But in a year of increasingly intense storms and floods, more than 40 million displacements – many temporary – were recorded as a result of weather-related disasters.

“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,” Bilak said.


Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said the pandemic had not slowed conflicts, as analysts had earlier hoped, helping drive up overall displacement.