In pandemic year 2020, when staying at home was a matter of survival, some 4.4 million Filipinos were forced to flee their homes due to natural disasters, making the country second in the world for mass displacement, according to a study.
The Philippines, as the first major landmass facing the Pacific typhoon belt, is also within the Pacific Ring of Fire. This makes it vulnerable not just to at least 20 typhoons per year but also to volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.
In 2020, the combined wrath of the Taal Volcano eruption at the start of the year and the series of monster storms that struck towards the end, contributed to the record-high figure that placed the country behind frontrunner China, the report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre said.
Around 40.5 million new displacements globally were recorded, which is the highest figure in at least ten years, the report said, noting that "disasters triggered over three times more displacements than conflict and violence."
"These figures were recorded despite the COVID-19 pandemic, when movement restrictions obstructed data collection and fear of infection discouraged people from seeking emergency shelter," it said.
Of the 4.4 million domestically displaced in the Philippines, 506,000 were due to the Taal eruption, an event recognized for having triggered the largest displacement by a geophysical hazard for the year.
Almost 111,000 displacements were due to armed conflict, and the remaining figure accounts for evacuations that resulted from the series of strong storms which also left extensive damage and destruction.
The study also points to another misconception about disasters: that internally displaced people easily return to their homes soon after every disaster. They often have prolonged unmet needs caused by their displacement.
As a whole, weather-related events were responsible for 98% of all disaster displacement recorded in 2020, the report said, noting these include the "intense cyclones, monsoon rains and floods that hit highly exposed and densely populated areas in South Asia and East Asia and the Pacific, including China, the Philippines and Bangladesh."
Governments must act
Despite decades of building evidence to the contrary, it is still a common perception that disasters are natural and something that can be prepared for but not prevented, the report said, urging governments to start seeing the other way around.
While climate events like La Niña in 2020 is seen as "one of the main naturally occurring drivers of the Earth’s climate system", it is now happening against a background of "human-induced climate change" that has been affecting the planet's water cycle and making extreme weather events more frequent and intense.
Although not all weather-related disasters and their associated displacement are directly related to climate change, "there is broad agreement among scientists that climate change in combination with other factors is likely to increase future displacement."
People maybe be forced to flee their homes during disasters for a variety of factors—may that be demographic, historical, political, social or economic in nature—that ultimately determine whether they can withstand the impacts of a disaster's hazard or just evacuate, the report said.
"We have entered the Anthropocene age, a period of unrivalled planetary and social imbalances that interact to give rise to new risks, including the risk of displacement... By understanding who is at risk of being displaced and where, and how long those who are displaced are likely to remain so and in what conditions, governments and the international community will be better equipped to prevent future displacement and address IDPs’ needs," it added.