On average, earthquakes, floods, droughts, storms and climate change force one individual every second to flee their home – more than 200 million people since 2008 alone. In an attempt to provide global and coordinated answers to this challenge, the Platform on Disaster Displacement, which looks at natural disasters as a cause of displacement, was established at the World Humanitarian Summit held in Istanbul in May 2016. On 1 July 2016, Germany became the first country to assume the Platform chairmanship, which it will hold for 18 months. Achim Steiner, a German UN expert who is now Envoy of the Chair, has been the Platform’s international ambassador since 13 October 2016.
Better prevention instead of crisis Management
January 2010: from one moment to the next, 1.5 million people in Haiti lost their homes as the result of an earthquake. November 2013: Typhoon Haiyan forced four million people to flee. In both cases, the international community was quick to signal its readiness to help. However, UN Secretary‑General Ban Ki-moon stated at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul that assistance was too focused on pure crisis management even though prior risk management and prevention would be far more effective.
An answer to this problem was found at this very summit: the establishment of the Platform on Disaster Displacement. This major step was taken at the end of a long journey. Milestones along the way were the Climate Conference in Cancún in 2010 and the Nansen Conference on Climate Change and Displacement held in Norway in 2011. Just under a year later, the Nansen Initiative was founded in Switzerland and subsequently in 2015 it presented its Agenda for the Protection of Cross-Border Displaced Persons in the Context of Disasters and Climate Change. A total of 109 governments around the world supported this Agenda, which highlights in particular the lack of protection for the victims of natural disasters in the global refugee conventions.
Overview for a complex problem
The aim of the Platform is to put into practice the recommendations presented by the Nansen Initiative and to coordinate the actions of the many players around the world. The strategic priorities include collating global comprehensive and reliable data on this problem. Known effective practices such as ordered voluntary migration and planned resettlement are to be promoted as alternatives to spontaneous displacement.
Displacement in the face of natural disasters has countless causes, for example climate change, population growth, poverty, poor governance and inadequate urban planning. One of the Platform’s key tasks therefore is to pool the resources of these very different fields of research and thus foster exchange between those engaged in scientific research and those carrying out measures on the ground. To this end, the Platform brings together governments, international organisations such as the Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), researchers as well as NGOs. The actions of all these players are meshed by the Coordination Unit, which is funded by Germany.
Germany as the first chair
Alongside Germany, the founding members of the Platform are 16 other states as well as the European Union. Germany is assuming the chair of the Steering Group for the first 18 months. The vice-chair is Bangladesh, most of whose densely populated territory lies below sea-level, thus making it especially vulnerable to floods. An Advisory Committee provides the Steering Group with the necessary technical expertise.
Achim Steiner, Director of the Oxford Martin School and former head of the United Nations Environment Programme, has been the Platform’s Envoy of the Chair since 13 October 2016 and, in this capacity, will highlight this issue in international contexts, provide information on the Platform’s work and promote it at high-level events.
2016 has set a sad record high, for the more than 65 million people currently displaced is the greatest number ever since the United Nations was founded. Not everyone is fleeing form war and violence. And climate researchers warn that in future natural disasters will force a much larger number of people to leave their homes. The Platform on Disaster Displacement is a key factor in the efforts to tackle this problem.