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Climate change could worsen displacement - UN

Floods in northern Nigeria 2009 Hilary Uguru/IRIN
With increasing natural disasters, including floods, storms and droughts, hitting the continent, more people in Africa are likely to be displaced, creating a challenge for governments, the UN warns.

Displacement caused by natural disasters, said John Holmes, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, promised to be one of the greatest challenges African countries would face.

“As many countries… know from recent painful experiences, climate change is already increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme hazard events, particularly floods, storms and droughts,” Holmes told an African Union (AU) summit in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, on 22 October.

In 2008, Africa reported 104 natural disasters, of which 99 percent were climate-related, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Over the past 20 years, the population of Africans affected by natural disasters doubled from nine million in 1989 to 16.7 million in 2008. Of all the disasters on the continent, 75 percent were a result of drought.

“By 2020, rain-fed agriculture is expected to have reduced by half because of shifting rainfall patterns, scattering millions of people across the continent in search [of] new livelihoods,” Holmes said.

The meeting is discussing a draft convention for the protection and assistance of internally displaced persons and a declaration on refugees, returnees and the internally displaced.

The convention is the first such global document that aims to comprehensively address the problems of Africa’s 12 million IDPs.

Uganda IDps
Photo: IRIN
A group of IDPs in Uganda: Over the past 20 years, the population of Africans affected by natural disasters doubled from nine million in 1989 to 16.7 million in 2008. Of all the disasters on the continent, 75 percent were a result of drought
Transitional justice

Before the meeting, civil society leaders called for concrete action on the convention, when adopted. Chris Dolan of the Uganda Refugee Law Project urged delegates to look beyond existing models of protection and assistance to IDP, refugee and returnee populations and draw from creative transitional justice practices around Africa.

“One step towards this would be to ensure that the plan of action that is put in place to implement the decisions adopted at the summit makes links between the African Union’s draft… and the policy on post-conflict reconstruction and development,” he added.

“Another will be to link… to ongoing transitional justice processes on the continent.”

At least 15 countries need to ratify the proposed convention for it to come into force, and diplomats at the summit are confident the signatures will be raised soon. Preparatory work, they added, had shown broad support across the continent.

“It is the responsibility of member states that the convention becomes a binding instrument,” Jean Ping, AU Commission chairman, told the meeting. “It is an achievement, but not an end in itself. It is a beginning.”


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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