In the five years from 2008-2012, over 144 million people were displaced by sudden-onset disasters in more than 120 countries—a number far greater than the number of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) displaced by persecution and conflict. Moreover, these figures are incomplete as there are few statistics about those displaced across international borders or those displaced by slow-onset disasters such as drought. Most of those displaced by disasters remain within the borders of their own countries and thus are of particular concern to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of IDPs. As cross-border disaster-induced displacement may become more likely in the future, the Nansen Initiative was established by Switzerland and Norway to examine the legal and policy implications of such movements. With climate change likely to increase the intensity and unpredictability of sudden-onset disasters as well as displace people via slow-onset processes, it is timely to consider the policy and legal implications of disaster-induced displacement with particular emphasis on the interrelationship between internal and cross-border displacement.
On April 9, the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement in association with the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs looked at some of the challenges which disaster-induced displacement poses for policies and laws at the national and international levels. Following introductory remarks by Claude Wild, head of Human Security Division of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (Switzerland), a panel of experts including Chaloka Beyani, Walter Kälin, and Jane McAdam of the Brookings Institution explored various dimensions of disaster-induced displacement. Senior Fellow Elizabeth Ferris, co-director of the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement, moderated the discussion and offer closing remarks.