Protecting People Displaced in the Context of Disasters in Asia Pacific


This post provides an update on the research initiative studying law, policy and practice in relation to disaster displacement in ten countries in Asia Pacific.

From 14-15 December, RWI’s Jakarta office convened a 1.5 day workshop with academics from Thailand, Myanmar, Indonesia, Cambodia, the Philippines, Nepal, Bangladesh, Vanuatu and China.

The aim of the workshop was to articulate a collective vision for the research initiative. To that end, initial sessions invited participants to engage with questions concerning the nature of disaster displacement and what a human rights-based approach entails in this context.

Drawing on a depth of multidisciplinary expertise, the group considered the many varieties of disaster displacement, addressing spatial, temporal and causal factors. When attention shifted to the individual case studies, a wide range of scenarios were described, from displacement in one district of Nepal following the 2015 earthquake, to the ongoing impacts of Cyclone Pam on Vanuatu. Other scenarios include evacuation in the context of a volcanic eruption in Indonesia, distress rural to urban migration in the context of repeated drought and flood in Cambodia, and repeated flooding in southern Thailand.

“The research is underpinned by an express recognition that disasters take place within a social context where pre-existing patterns of discrimination can engender or exacerbate vulnerability to disaster-related harm”

The research initiative as a whole will aim to capture a wide range of displacement scenarios, including short and long distance, short and longer term, sudden and slower onset hazards and so forth. The research is underpinned by an express recognition that disasters take place within a social context where pre-existing patterns of discrimination can engender or exacerbate vulnerability to disaster-related harm, and where the conduct of state and non-state actors leading up to the onset of a particular hazard can play a significant, either positive or negative, role in determining the impact. Participants also recognised that conventional definitions of disaster that tend to emphasize large scale events risk ignoring the more prevalent, but less publicised smaller natural hazards events and processes that have a localised impact but may not register as a priority for state actors.

“…The right to information and to participation were key procedural rights identified…”

Adopting a human rights-based approach, participants highlighted substantive, procedural and cross-cutting elements, identifying relevant economic and social rights such as the right to food, shelter, water and health, as well as civil and political rights such as the right to life. The right to information and to participation were key procedural rights identified, along with cross-cutting principles of non-discrimination and equality. Awareness of how disasters can have a differential impact, the case studies will pay close attention to the situation of women, children, and persons with disabilities, members of minority ethnic or other marginalised groups.

Informed by the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, the research will examine how state actors fulfilled their obligations to prevent displacement, protect people during displacement, and facilitate durable solutions in the aftermath. Taking place during the 20th anniversary of the Guiding Principles, this study is particularly interested to explore the practical implementation of the Principles in the context of disasters, and to identify obstacles to more consistent application.

Our next workshop will take place around July 2018, where participants will share preliminary findings from their case studies. Recognising that knowledge gaps remain wide when it comes to understanding displacement in the context of disasters, this study is designed to provide policy relevant insight, and to generate and contribute to further initiatives across the region.