Disasters and Displacement: Gaps in Protection

in Journal of International Humanitarian Legal Studies
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Abstract

Natural disasters, particularly those related to climate change, are fast becoming a leading cause of forced displacement although conceptual, normative and institutional frameworks to provide human rights protection to the environmentally displaced are not yet in place. This article discusses the human rights and protection dimensions of disaster-induced displacement, identifies the major challenges to protecting disaster victims, and proposes ways forward. The authors argue that while most environmentally displaced persons are expected to remain within their own countries, there is a lack of clarity about the status and protection needs of those uprooted by environmental degradation and other 'slow-onset' disasters as opposed to those displaced by 'sudden-onset' disasters. By far the biggest protection gap exists for those who cross borders. These individuals do not generally qualify as refugees under the 1951 Refugee Convention, there is no normative framework to address their specific needs and vulnerabilities and States have not been willing to commit to more than temporary protection on an ad hoc basis. The need is now critical for new approaches to be developed for the environmentally displaced, including expanded normative and institutional frameworks, comprehensive national policies, national and international monitoring, rights training, and more effective ways of dealing with governments that fail to protect their populations.

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