Climate Change, Natural Disaster and Human Displacement

By: Lengga Pradipta(*)


Climate change and natural disasters are giving tremendous impact to social and economic development; it is also seen as a condition that may trigger challenges and problems of the humanitarian issue. The disasters that hit Asia and the Pacific region in the last decade have been highlighted as the most destructive disaster in all over the world. Unfortunately, in disaster context, the issue of human rights, specifically the issue of displaced people is not sufficiently taken into account by humanitarian actors. According to IDMC (2015), there are millions of people are being displaced from their homes by climate-related disasters. Unarguably, in this phase, displaced people are forced to migrate and adapt to a new environment, including unfamiliar culture, law, and livelihoods (Gururaja, 2011).

Soon after the 2004 tsunami and the 2009 earthquake, governments and policymakers were demanded to establish an integrated response to disasters, which are not only focused on reconstruction process, but there should be a critical perspective to alter the disaster response scheme from technical matters to human rights issue.

There should be recognition in promoting the human rights to the victims of natural disasters, in particular for those who were being displaced. Because when people have been affected by disasters, they will have enormous challenges with their rights, and for those who lived in densely populated regions obviously they have greater risk. These groups of people will experience the long impact because they have limited resources to continue their lives (Lewis, 2016). Although since 2004 UNOCHA has released the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement which clearly stated about Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) until now, there is only few information about displaced persons and displacement situations. Displaced persons can be defined as individuals or groups of individuals who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result or 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 (Guiding Principles, 2004). Since every disaster has different impacts on people and State, it means the disaster response instruments should be flexible and connect to human rights principles, especially protecting the rights of individuals. Human rights principle has to be applied because displaced persons also experienced social and psychological pressures which can bring them into another threat called discrimination (Smith, 2006).

Hence, to deal with this situation, the human rights protections from national as well as international level are crucially needed (Cohen et al., 2010). States have the responsibility to promote and protect human rights of people within their territory or jurisdiction – both citizens and non-citizens. At the other sides, if people are displaced within national borders, State actors have responsibilities in disaster risk reduction integration; to revamp the governance system in societies and to protect communities based on international human rights treaties (Forino, et al. 2015)

In contrast, in Asia and the Pacific, there are no clear regulations about protecting the rights of their citizens who affected by disasters, particularly in ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AHA Center, 2015). This agreement needs to be revised and should include the issue of displaced person and human rights to ensure that State will commit to protecting their citizens. Furthermore, there are only a few studies in Asia and the Pacific that focused on disasters and human displacement. It happens because most of the disaster scholars do not fully understand and explore this issue (Da Costa, 2015).

Bringing up the issue of climate change and natural disaster into human rights perspective is very crucial in minimizing the numbers of migrants or displaced people, thus, human rights-based approach should be applied, since this approach have many advantages; this approach will incorporate litigation process for violations of binding human rights law, either in national or international tribunals. It also emphasizes on the rights of people and gives the opportunities to vulnerable groups to speak up about their condition. Additionally, this approach will promote equity in national and international decision-making processes, and this approach is more effective and sustainable related to policy responses (McAdam et al., 2015).

To sum up, all stakeholders should conduct a comprehensive study concerning human rights aspects of climate change and natural disaster jurisdiction in Asia and the Pacific, as well as explore more about the disasters and displacement issue. Last but not least, we have to apply the human rights based – approach to climate change and natural disasters context which may contribute to human rights policy and planning.


(*) Junior Researcher at the Research Center for Population, Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI)

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