India witnesses 2.5 mn internal displacements due to natural disasters in 2022

South Asian region as a whole witnessed a staggering 12.5 mn internal displacements

PTI01_07_2023_000140A Damage caused during the land sinking disaster in Joshimath in the first week of January this year

According to a recent report published by the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, India experienced approximately 2.5 million internal displacements in 2022 due to natural disasters, including heavy floods and cyclones. The South Asian region as a whole witnessed a staggering 12.5 million internal displacements, with floods being the primary cause of 90% of these movements.

The report highlights that among the affected countries, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh faced the most significant impact. The majority of these displacements occurred during the southwest monsoon season, which typically spans from June to September. Notably, both India and Bangladesh experienced flooding even before the official onset of the monsoon season.

The state of Assam, for instance, faced early floods in May, which were followed by another bout of flooding in June, affecting nearly five million people across the region. In addition, torrential rains in May resulted in overflowing rivers in Bangladesh, causing nearly 5,500 displacements.

Furthermore, storms were responsible for approximately 1.1 million internal displacements across South Asia in 2022. Cyclone Sitrang accounted for 66,000 displacements in Odisha and West Bengal, while Cyclone Asani and Cyclone Mandous led to 1,500 and 9,500 displacements, respectively, in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

The report also raises concerns about the methodology used to document disasters in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan. Currently, only medium- to large-scale events are included in the official records, disregarding smaller-scale disasters that, when taken into account, could significantly contribute to higher displacement figures.

The findings of this report emphasize the urgent need for comprehensive disaster management strategies and proactive measures to mitigate the impact of natural disasters in the region. Addressing the challenges posed by recurring floods and cyclones will be crucial for safeguarding the lives and livelihoods of millions of people affected by internal displacements in India and neighboring countries.

"Assessments also tend to focus on disaster damage and loss but not on displacement, so figures have to be extrapolated from housing destruction data by applying average household size calculations. When displacement is specifically reported, data only captures people in relief camps or evacuated by authorities, not those who seek shelter with host families or in informal sites, which leads to underestimates," it said.

The frequency of extreme weather events such as floods and heat waves is projected to rise manifolds in India in the future due to climate change, according to a report by researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar, last year.

The study said the risk will increase significantly under the warming climate and variability in the El Nino-Southern Oscillation -- a recurring climate pattern involving changes in the temperature of waters in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean.

Climate change has increased the instability in the atmosphere, leading to an increase in convective activity -- thunderstorms, lightning and heavy rain events. Cyclonic storms in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea are also intensifying rapidly and retaining their intensity for a longer duration due to global warming, according to meteorologists.

This increase in the frequency of extreme weather events is posing a challenge to forecasters. Studies show that the ability to predict heavy rainfall is hampered due to climate change, they said.

India recorded 2,227 human casualties due to extreme weather events in 2022, according to the Annual Statement on Climate of India - 2022 issued by the India Meteorological Department.

The death toll stood at 1,750 in 2021 and 1,338 in 2020, the Met data showed.  

(With inputs from PTI)