Storms, floods, forest fires – and to a lesser extent conflict – uprooted 40.5 million people worldwide in 2020. That was the largest number in more than a decade. That comes from figures released Thursday by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, a nonprofit group based in Geneva that tracks displacement data annually.
It was all the more remarkable when it came during the worst global pandemic in a century.
Extreme weather events, mainly storms and floods, made up most of the displacement. While not all of these disasters have been linked to man-made climate change, the centre’s report made it clear that the global rise in temperature caused by the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere “increases the intensity and frequency of weather-related hazards. ”
Last May, Cyclone Amphan alone displaced five million people in Bangladesh and India when it lashed Bengal Bay, felled trees and power lines, and destroyed thousands of buildings. In Bangladesh, weeks later, upstream rivers swelled, flooding a quarter of the country and taking away the fortunes of its people – their mud and tin houses, their chickens and cattle, their sacks of rice stored for the lean times.
In November, two fierce hurricanes, Eta and Iota, hit Central America in quick succession, washing away bridges, uprooting trees, and causing widespread flooding and deadly mudslides. The 2020 hurricane season was the most active hurricane season in the Atlantic with 30 named storms, including 13 hurricanes.
In the United States, rising temperatures and rising sea levels have made flooding more common, particularly along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, and the rate of these floods is accelerating, according to US government researchers. In many places, “floods are at least five times more common today than they were in the 1950s,” according to figures recently released by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Last year’s displacement numbers come as this year’s Atlantic hurricane season approaches. Scientists have predicted that the season will have above-average storm activity.
Climate change has resulted in wetter storms because warmer air contains more moisture. And while the links between climate change and hurricanes are complex, recent research suggests that warming has made stuck Atlantic storms more common. This can be more destructive because they stay in one place for a long time.
Most of the displaced, mainly weather-related, were in Asia, five million in China, around 4.4 million each in Bangladesh and the Philippines and 3.9 million in India. The United States had 1.7 million displacements. Conflict-related displacement was highest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo at 2.2 million and in Syria at 1.8 million.