Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Disaster-Induced Displacement in the Caribbean and the Pacific

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Disaster-Induced Displacement in the Caribbean and the Pacific

Article excerpt

Relative to their population size, five of the 20 countries most affected by disaster displacement are Small Island Developing States (SIDS).1 Today a person living in one of these States is three times more likely to be displaced by a disaster than a person living elsewhere.2 However, little analysis has been done of displacement risk in SIDS, as the total number of people affected in a single case is often relatively small and therefore overshadowed by larger countries' more headline-grabbing events.

The SIDS in the Caribbean and the Pacific belong to the most hazard-prone regions of the world - as demonstrated only too vividly by recent hurricanes in the Caribbean. According to the International Monetary Fund, SIDS lose approximately 2% of their annual GDP on average as a result of natural hazards, four times the global average.3 Yet there is a lack of literature on disaster displacement with a focus on SIDS, and especially with a regional focus on the Caribbean. There are no appropriate data collection methods to register situations of protracted displacement or the effects of displacement on livelihoods over time. Labels and categories such as homeless, evacuee and displaced are often used interchangeably and merged in statistics on disaster displacement, regardless of duration and distance of movement, or the influence of the movement on livelihoods.4 Many cases of displacement, including some of a protracted nature, remain unnoticed.

Displacement drivers

Our research set out to identify how disasterinduced displacement is reflected in national and regional disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation (CCA) policy mechanisms in SIDS in the Caribbean and the Pacific.5 The results of the interviews conducted for the research project show that, overall, the drivers of displacement are similar in both regions. The informal nature of settlement development and the lack of safe land for settlements, poverty, lack of insurance schemes and social safety nets, environmental degradation and the erosion of traditionally strong social bonds all interact with political factors in a complex manner to shape displacement risk. Several respondents mentioned how land tenure systems lead to disputes over proving ownership of land after a disaster. According to several respondents, this was one of the factors delaying reconstruction and prolonging displacement after Hurricane Ivan hit Grenada in 2004: "So you lose documents on ownership, [...] and you are now recovering - [then] comes the quarrel or the struggle over who owns what."

Not only are informal settlements built in unsafe locations but they are built using unsafe and substandard materials and methods of construction and thus offer no protection from hazards. This is not limited to informal settlements. Formally built areas do not follow or apply building codes as these are either not adequately enforced or the general public do not have the means to apply them to their dwellings. One respondent describes how: "Some households cannot afford to obey the laws and regulations of Tonga's building codes to build houses to be resilient up to a category 5 [...] they cannot afford to build houses up to these standards, and during a disaster they will be the first to move."

Displacement drivers are not limited to sudden-onset hazards. Following the drought in 2013 a group of farmers in the Dominican Republic were forced to take out a bank loan, providing their land and houses as collateral guarantee. In 2016, many of these farmers were displaced because they could not repay the loan on time and the banks seized the assets they had put up as security. Such indirect effects of slow-onset hazards are not registered as disaster-related displacement. This underlines the gap in the current data on displacement and the complexity of factors involved.

During the interviews, it became evident that most governments avoid discussing displacement, especially when it is internal. …

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