Newsmaker Interview: Michelle Yonetani

Interview by Mark Koski 

We had an opportunity to speak with Michelle Yonetani, the Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre's (IDMC) Senior Advisor on Natural Disasters about the recent publication of IDMC's annual report: A Global Estimates 2012: People Displaced by Disasters. The following is a brief interview about the publication. 

Could you give us a brief overview of the IDMC report and could you tell us about some of the key findings? 

The IDMC has published its Global Estimates report annually since 2008. The report was initially developed in collaboration with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), with whom IDMC developed a methodology for analyzing data and reporting. Since 2008, the methodology has been refined and the report has expanded the number of sources utilized- in particular through increased cooperation with IOM this year.

One of the most notable figures from the 2012 report is that more than 32.4 million people were displaced by rapid onset disasters last year. This is almost double the number displaced in 2011. Around 144 million people were displaced during the last five years. Another important figure of the 2012 report was that a vast majority of displacements, 98 per cent, was due to climate- and weather-related disasters.

Mega-events also dramatically affect the yearly total. The biggest disasters in 2012 were the floods that affected North East India and most of Nigeria. Over 6 million people were displaced in each of these events, contributing to 41 per cent of the global total of people displaced. While Asia has the highest numbers of people displaced each year, Africa saw a five-year high with 8.2 million people displaced in 2012 by flood and storm-related disasters alone.

The data compiled reveals a high level of recurrent and frequent displacement in many countries, which has cumulative impacts on the most vulnerable populations especially. Furthermore, the risk and impacts of displacement by natural hazard-induced disasters are linked to other sources of vulnerability. For example, around a quarter of countries where this displacement was reported as also affected by conflict.

Could you highlight some of the key differences noted between developed and developing countries in the report?

Economic status of countries correlates with disaster risk and associated displacement. Over the past five years, 98 per cent of those displaced have been in the developing world. Those in poverty were disproportionately affected once again in 2012. But natural disasters did not only affect developing countries. For example, the United States was in the top ten countries for displacement in 2012.

Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) also suffered from a higher impact relative to the size of their populations. All of the countries that had more than once per cent of their populations displaced in 2012 were developing countries. Chad was the country with the highest relative levels of displacement in 2012, while Haiti was the country worst affected considering the number of people newly displaced over the last five years.

For future reports, where do you expect to see IDMC’s focus to be directed? Do you see a development of the capability to monitor long-term or slow-onset displacement?

Absolutely, we are trying to deepen our analysis by developing new models and methodologies suited to different contexts and types of disaster. We are currently working on modeling displacement associated with drought with the model being developed featured in this report. On top of modeling drought, we are also trying to model future displacement risk based on data compiled from past events. In addition, it will be important to identify and highlight situations and the protection concerns for people caught with durable solutions to their displacement. These methods will help reduce data blind spots and will provide an even more accurate picture of global displacement.

What were some of the challenges putting together the report from such a wide-array of organizations?

The way that displacement is understood and reported on for different purposes varies among—and even within—different organizations. For the Global Estimates report, IDMC identifies displacement based on the definition of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) provided by the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. This includes people evacuated or forced to leave their homes to avoid an impending disaster, and also people made homeless—whose homes are no longer habitable after a disaster, which can be difficult define in practice. IDMC works very hard to verify statistics and to ensure a consistent definition is applied to compiling reported information.

How did IOM’s data contribute to the report?

Through IOM’s country missions and close contact with local and national officials, IOM provides IDMC with accurate and dependable data. On the operational side through Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) work, IOM provides reliable statistics as well as information on smaller events that are often under reported. The close relationship IOM’s country missions have with local authorities also helps IDMC gain access to official statistics that might otherwise be unavailable.

Through IOM’s operational capacity and established relationships, the organization is able to provide dependable and wide-ranging data for the report. 

For the full report, click here