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Disaster Induced Displacement

  • Category
    Disaster Management
  • Published
    30th May, 2022


  • What does Disaster induced internal displacement means?
  • What are its causes?
  • What are its impacts?
  • How to mitigate the issue and its Management
  • Steps by governmental and non-governmental bodies


  • Latest report on Global internal displacement shows disasters continue to displace more and people are living longer in relief camps.
  • The Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC)’ssaid Assam is the only spot currently in India where people have been displaced due to disaster and are living in camps.

Historical Background

  • Archaeological evidence suggests that human settlement patterns have responded repeatedly to changes in the climate.
  • There is evidence that the emergence of the first large, urban societies was driven by a combination of climatic and environmental desiccation.
  • During the 4th century CE, growing aridity and frigid temperatures from a prolonged cold snap caused the Hun and German hordes to migrate across the Volga and Rhine into milder Gaul.
  • Similarly, in the 8th century CE, Muslim expansion into the Mediterranean and southern Europe was, to some extent, driven by drought in the Middle East.
  • Pastoralist societies have of course habitually migrated, with their animals, from water sources to grazing lands in response to drought as well as part of their normal mode of life.
  • But it is becoming apparent that migration as a response to environmental change is not limited to nomadic societies.
  • In short, people have had to move for environmental reasons for thousands of years and the recent statistics point to a sobering picture of such migrants in the coming future.
  • Deterioration of the environment on account of climate change is giving rise to climate disasters and extreme weather events that in turn are displacing more human population than conflicts and disturbances.
  • The World Migration Report 2022 of the United Nations maps the worsening displacement of people due to climate-change-related events.

 Present conditions

  • As early as 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) noted that the greatest single impact of climate change might be on human migration.
  • Millions of people are displaced by shoreline erosion, coastal flooding and agricultural disruption.
  • Over the past 30 years, the number of people living in coastal areas at high risk of rising sea levels has increased from 160 million to 260 million, 90% of whom are from poor developing countries and small island states.
  • Hazards resulting from the increasing intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, such as abnormally heavy rainfall, prolonged droughts, desertification, environmental degradation, or sea-level rise and cyclones are already causing an average of more than 20 million people to leave their homes and move to other areas in their countries each year.
  • As climate change worsens storms and droughts, climate scientists and migration experts expect the number to rise.

About India’s disaster induced displacements

  • India was the seventh most affected by the devastating impact of climate change globally in 2019 according to the Global Climate Risk Index 2021.
  • The uneven monsoon across the country and extreme climate change-driven weather events are a matter of serious concern.
  • This may force people to migrate internally within the Indian Territory.

Assam’s situation:

  • There were some 16,370 people living in displacement. It has been nearly 100 days that the monitoring tool constantly shows people living in such camps.
  • In 2021, disasters displaced 4.9 million people in India, according to the report. This was the highest figure for the country in five years.
  • This is the fourth-highest in the world and the highest in the South Asia region. Out of this, nearly 0.5 million people were in camps, like the nearly 40,000 in Assam for the last two months.
  • At this point of time, when mass migration of climate refugees is imminent, safeguards to the fragile indigenous population become necessary to avoid future conflicts.
  • This requires legislative and policy measures so that the refugees get their due rights of settlement and rehabilitation.
  • Also ensure the rights of indigenous people over the land and resources to avoid future conflicts between the groups.


Who are climate refugees?

  • There is no international definition of ‘climate refugees’, however, the concept was first introduced by Lester Brown of the World Watch Institute in the 1970s.
    • The term ‘environmental refugees’ was used to denote the forced migration of people due to environmental degradation and natural disasters.
  • In other words, these are the people who are forced to migrate to other places or cross borders due to catastrophic weather and natural events that may be climate-change driven.

What are the implications of such displacements?

  • Educational and health care systems have to adjust to a sudden, new population. They need to bear the additional pressure on their resources.
  • Unlike traditional refugees, climate refugees may be sent back to their devastated homeland or forced into a refugee camp, leading to livelihood crisis.
  • Those climate refugees who are internal migrants (rural and coastal residents who are forced to migrate to urban areas within their country) face numerous problems. Their skills are not relevant in urban areas and thus they face livelihood crises.
  • The phenomenon may hinder development in the following ways:
    • Climate refugees may increase pressure on urban infrastructure and services.
    • An increased population may undermine economic growth.
    • Lead to worse health, educational and social indicators.
    • Risk of conflict among migrants themselves.
  • Climate change may also trigger conflict amongst the population as climate change may enhance the competition for resources like food, water and grazing lands.

What are the concerns for their existence?

  • Although people fleeing from places, where they face risks arising from the impacts of climate change, are often referred to as “climate refugees”, on most occasions they do not fall within the scope of the refugee definition in Article 1 of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.
  • There are no legally binding agreements obliging countries to support climate migrants.
  • The UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) has thus far refused to grant these people refugee status, instead designates them as “environmental migrants,” in large part because it lacks the resources to address their needs.
  • Regional refugee instruments like the 1984 Cartagena Declaration and the 1969 OAU Convention offer a wider definition of protecting refugees fleeing conditions that “seriously disturb public order” but these regional instruments long pre-date when climate change was not a global concern.

What could be done further?

  • The global community should endeavour to expand the definition of a “refugee.” This may help them in getting access to financial grants, food aid, tools, shelter, schools or clinics. Providing legal recognition to them must be the top priority.
  • The affected countries and regions may endeavour to adapt to climate change-driven extreme events by making a series of cost-benefit decisions. These adaptation techniques may help them in reducing their vulnerability to climate change events.
  • Those countries which are less affected may formulate immigration policies on climate refugees.
  • The UN SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) may be of greater help as they address both migration and climate change. Several of the 169 targets established by the SDGs lay out general goals that could be used to protect climate migrants. These include:
    • Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries
    • Integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies, and planning
    • Improve education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction, and early warning.
  • Drawing communities into the process of managing ecological resources, processes and services, could help more effectively mitigate the impact of climate change, forecast need for migration and ease the process, while minimising distress.

Policies in India

  • Disaster induced displacement in India is currently looked after by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and their state level counterparts.
    • These authorities have laid down their respective preventive, preparedness, capacity building, and rehabilitation plans.
    • Compensation in lieu of drought is also provided to farmers out of the disaster relief funds, although the amount currently being provided has often been termed grossly insufficient by various farmers’ bodies, NGOs and academicians.
  • Current national policies primarily address the short-term and sudden onset of climatic disasters.
    • They do not adequately consider slow-onset climate change events such as increased aridity and recurrent droughts, desertification, sea-level rise, river erosions, glacial melts, and losses caused by the same.

National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA):

  • NDMA was established through the Disaster Management Act, 2005 enacted by the Government of India, and was formally constituted by Dec 2006.
  • It is a Statutory Body for disaster management in the country.
  • Mandate: Its primary purpose is to coordinate the response to natural or man-made disasters and for capacity-building in disaster resiliency and crisis response. It is also the apex body to lay down policies, plans and guidelines for Disaster Management to ensure a timely and effective response to disasters.


The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) was established to follow the functions mentioned below:

  • Implementing policies related to Disaster Management.
  • Approving various plans like:
    • National Plans
    • Plans by different Ministries & Departments of the Indian Government
    • Other plans related to the National Plan.
  • Laying down guidelines for State Government Authorities in accordance with the State Plan.
    • Laying down guidelines for different Government Authorities in order to integrate the preventive measures for the Disaster or attenuation of its effect in their development plans & projects.
  • Coordinating with the workforce and implementing the policies/plans necessary.
  • Recommending the provision of funds necessary for mitigation.
  • Depending on the Central Government, providing aid and support to the countries in need.
  • Laying down guidelines and broad policies for the functioning of the NIDM (National Institute of Disaster Management).


When the world is grappling with such a burning crisis like climate change, it is difficult to avoid its ramifications. Therefore, formulating policies and plans unitedly to minimise the loss and reduce vulnerability will be the way forward. This will require a multi-pronged and multi-sectoral approach by all the stakeholders.

Q1. “According to the Assam State Disaster Management Authority, over half a million people have been displaced due to floods in Assam.” In light of this statement, discuss the social and economic cost of disaster-induced displacement.

Q2. Floods are the most commonly occurring natural disaster in India. What are the reasons for frequent floods in India? Suggest steps that need to be taken for proper flood management.


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