Fewer Refugees, More Displaced Persons: Dams and Disasters Send More People Fleeing Than Political Persecution

Article excerpt

Individuals uprooted from their homes but still living within their home countries outnumber international refugees by two to one, but they receive very little assistance from humanitarian aid groups, according to the Worldwatch Institute's Vital Signs 2003 report.

Just under 20 million people in the world are classified as "people of concern" by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 12 million of whom are officially recognized as refugees eligible for aid. But those figures pale in comparison with the 50 million others who have been displaced by civil conflicts, environmental catastrophes, or development projects running roughshod over their lives. Because they haven't crossed a border, they are largely ignored by the UNHCR, which assists those displaced by conflicts but not dams or earthquakes.

While the number of international refugees has declined slightly, the number of internally displaced persons--especially environmental refugees --is likely to grow in the future, according to the report. There were about 25 million environmental refugees as of 1995, but that number is projected to double by 2010 as global warming inflicts proportionally more damage in developing countries. …