Climate-induced displacement
Responding to the needs created by natural disasters and climate change

As a general rule, JRS responds to natural disasters when JRS projects or staff are already working close to the affected area, and (as in Indonesia and Haiti) when a community or camp accompanied by JRS is struck by a disaster. JRS does not usually engage in large-scale aid distribution, but rather focuses on accompanying and serving displaced persons and communities which have severe unmet or complex needs.

In emergencies, JRS works together with Jesuit structures already present in the affected area, responding to the immediate consequences of the emergency by providing services within its core competencies: education, medical help, basic food and non-food assistance, psychosocial support, reconciliation and advocacy. We always seek to work in coordination with experienced disaster response NGOs and the local authorities. Highly vulnerable communities and those with specific needs, for example, those that have previously experienced conflict displacement, receive special attention.

  • In practice
  • JRS position
In practice – JRS responses

Responding to natural disasters and the displacement resulting from them has not generally been a priority focus of JRS offices, which have relatively little experience in this area. As a general rule, JRS does respond to natural disasters when a JRS project already exists or staff are already working close to the affected area and when a JRS accompanied-community or camp is affected by a disaster.

JRS will not try to address the large scale needs but rather will focus on accompanying and serving displaced persons and communities with severe unaddressed or complex needs which no one else is addressing. Important factors in the decision as to whether to respond to disasters are the capacities of the local JRS staff and the availability of resources to take on this work while sustaining the commitment to ongoing priorities.

JRS reacts to emergencies by providing services in its core competencies:  education, medical help, basic food and non- food assistance, reconciliation and advocacy, always considering its role in relation to that of experienced NGOs and authorities. Coordination with these parties and the eventual handover of information and programmes should be planned for from an early stage in order to ensure a smooth exit strategy.

Difficult cases, such as communities that can be characterised as being highly vulnerable and those with specific needs (e.g. those which have previously experienced conflict displacement and are vulnerable to disaster displacement) should receive special attention regarding their specific need, as they might gain greater benefit from the JRS style of accompaniment. A JRS response will always be characterised by an emphasis on the quality of the response rather than solely by quantitative criteria. 

In the past decade, small island developing states have been very active in the climate change debate, making impassioned pleas to the United Nations to take action before they are submerged. The autonomous government of Bougainville (Papua New Guinea) is working towards permanently resettling communities from the atolls to the mainland of Bougainville.

These communities are in increasingly urgent need of resettlement due to sea water inundation causing salination of the soil, food insecurity, vulnerability to natural disasters, and other factors. Resettlement will be on a voluntary basis over the next 10 years. It is planned that the first 40 families from the Carteret Islands will be resettled in mid-2011.

While the title to this land is already held by the government, agreement by customary landowners has been negotiated to ensure community support for the programme. This movement is one of the first planned relocations of a population because their land is no longer thought to be suitable on account of rising sea levels and environmental degradation.

The authorities of Bougainville are conducting a needs assessment of both the population to be resettled and the community at the proposed relocation site. JRS Australia and UNHCR in Papua New Guinea are providing technical support for this needs assessment.

Displacement caused by natural and man-made disasters is an ongoing problem faced by Indonesia. A challenge is that there is a lack of knowledge about the situation and needs of former and current IDP communities. JRS seeks to inform the government and the NGO community about the plight of the IDPs and to lobby for continued support until a durable solution is found, whether in relocation sites or their original villages.

JRS advocates for disaster prevention and response on village, district and national levels. We also enable disaster-prone communities to prevent displacement through risk analysis and mitigation. JRS is part of the UN Protection Cluster and the Technical Working Group for Disaster Risk Reduction.
JRS Working Paper on JRS Response to Climate Induced Displacement

Climate change is but one of the many factors impacting millions of people's well-being today. In 2009, it was estimated that between 50 million and 200 million people would be forced to move on a temporary or permanent basis by the middle of this century.

A natural disaster is the effect of a natural hazard (e.g. flood, tornado, hurricane, volcanic eruption, earthquake or landslide) which affects its environment and leads to material damage, financial, environmental and human losses as well as displacement. The resulting loss depends on the capacity of the population to support themselves or resist the disaster, their resilience, and the capacity of state authorities to mount a timely response to prevent or reduce the impact of the disaster. Disasters occur when hazards meet vulnerability. A natural hazard will not result in a natural disaster in areas without vulnerability, e.g. earthquakes in uninhabited areas or in communities with earthquake-resistant buildings.

Natural disasters can destroy the livelihoods and infrastructure of a community including housing, food, arable land and other means of production. The death of key members of a community can destroy its social fabric and limit functionality of the community, even to the extent of threatening their capacity for self-determination, leading to a loss of autonomy. Human and material losses combined with the experience of a life-threatening disaster leave members of communities in shock, with some individuals experiencing trauma long after the disaster. Natural disasters often lead to short or long term displacement.

Natural disasters are in some cases hard to distinguish from man-made disasters, for example, when floods and landslides are caused by human activities such as logging. Displacement, resulting from natural disasters, must be understood in the wider context of environmentally forced migration, including pressures arising from climate change or from the implementation of large scale development projects, where the environmental impact, the effect on the traditions of local communities and their rights to the land have not been taken into account. These pressures can be expected to lead to adaptation strategies which may include migration to urban or rural areas. It is anticipated that natural disasters and disaster-induced displacement may increase as a result of climate change, and that such migration will constitute one of the biggest challenges over the years and decades to come.

Similar challenges are arising in situations where disaster-displaced communities cannot return to their land because of policy decisions that that land is regarded as too unsafe to return to because of the continuing threat of landslide, flooding and other hazards. In such situations, displacement caused by disasters may lead to conflicts within the displaced communities or with the surrounding or host communities and might require facilitation, negotiation and reconciliation assistance to bring the displaced and host communities to a satisfactory accommodation.

Challenges or necessary changes
While, in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, those affected are first and foremost in need of fundamental, life-saving humanitarian assistance, experience teaches us that those affected are also at serious risk of human rights violations, ongoing physical and psychological damage, and the loss of human dignity. Moreover, discrimination and violations of economic, social and cultural rights can become more entrenched the longer displacement lasts. These violations are in most cases not consciously planned and instigated but result from a lack of appropriate policies, and the implementation of inadequate and uncoordinated humanitarian interventions.

They could, therefore, be easily avoided if the relevant human rights guarantees were taken into account from the outset. For this reason, protection must be an intrinsic part of the emergency response from the first moments of the relief effort. It follows that policies and procedures must be developed and put in place by responsible authorities, including governments, UN emergency response agencies, and non-governmental organisations and other stakeholders that will ensure the integration of protection into all responses activities.

In responding to the needs of those affected by natural disasters, the local context (culture, traditions, and practices) should be recognised and addressed during planning, implementation and evaluation of the response. Where more than one cultural or ethnic community is affected, it may be necessary to ensure that an equal needs-based standard of assistance is applied, and to focus coordination efforts on avoiding discrepancies in aid delivery. In those situations where there are pre-existing tensions between different social groups, transparency and community involvement is especially needed in order to avoid the emergence of conflicts between different populations.

In all instances, participative and inclusive methods carried out with cultural sensitivity should be practiced in programmes addressing emergency response, rehabilitation and mitigation. Community, local NGOs and local government participation should be ensured in planning, implementation and evaluation of the project.

In cases of massive destruction such as, for example, the tsunami in Aceh, there is a need for monitoring of actors addressing the needs which arise. The voluntary participation of local communities and organisations should be ensured as a way to strengthen their resilence and solidarity. In the case of the Aceh tsunami response, a second tsunami of International NGOs and UN agencies operating according to their "standard procedures" was not transparent and was sometimes insensitive to the local context, leading to damage in the social fabric of the community.

The involvement of JRS
Responding to natural disasters and the displacement resulting from them has not generally been a priority focus of JRS offices, which have relatively little experience in this area. As a general rule, JRS does respond to natural disasters when a JRS project already exists or staff are already working close to the affected area and when a JRS accompanied-community or camp is affected by a disaster. JRS will not try to address the large scale needs but rather will focus on accompanying and serving displaced persons and communities with severe unaddressed or complex needs which no one else is addressing.

Important factors in the decision as to whether to respond to disasters are the capacities of the local JRS staff and the availability of resources to take on this work while sustaining the commitment to ongoing priorities. JRS reacts to emergencies by providing services in its core competencies: education, medical help, basic food and non- food assistance, reconciliation and advocacy, always considering its role in relation to that of experienced NGOs and authorities.

Coordination with these parties and the eventual handover of information and programmes should be planned for from an early stage in order to ensure a smooth exit strategy. Difficult cases, such as communities that can be characterised as being highly vulnerable and those with specific needs (e.g. those which have previously experienced conflict displacement and are vulnerable to disaster displacement) should receive special attention regarding their specific need, as they might gain greater benefit from the JRS style of accompaniment. A JRS response will always be characterised by an emphasis on the quality of the response rather than solely by quantitative criteria.

The JRS way of working is through small teams with little logistical baggage, focusing on providing human resources rather than on large scale material inputs. The JRS focus on advocacy as well as the commitment to accompaniment, with its implicit undertaking to do no harm to the dignity of the human person is a core characteristic that should be upheld in both the initial emergency response and during the rehabilitation phase.

Displacement in the Pacific
In the past decade small island developing states (SIDs) have been very active in the climate change debate making impassioned pleas to the United Nations for countries to take action before their country is submerged. In 2009 in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly, President Tong of Kiribati stated that "Climate change is indeed the greatest moral challenge of our time. I fear that our children and grandchildren will look back and ask, 'How is it that they knew what they knew, and yet did so little'. We simply cannot afford the consequences of inaction. The people of my country are already feeling the impacts of climate change, which will only worsen with time. We together with those other low-lying States, are the human face of climate change" .

The Bougainville Administration is working towards permanently resettling communities from the Carteret (Tulun), Mortlock (Takuu), Tasman (Nukumanu), Fead (Nuguria) and Nissan Atoll Island groups to designated sites on Buka Island or mainland Bougainville. These communities are in increasingly urgent need of resettlement due to sea water inundation causing salination of the soil, food insecurity, population growth, vulnerability to natural disasters, and other factors. Resettlement will be on a voluntary basis over the next 10 years.

It is planned that the first 40 families from the Carteret Islands will be resettled in mid-2011 to a site at the former Karoola plantation in the West of Buka Island. While the title to this land is already held by the government, agreement by customary landowners has also been negotiated to ensure community support for the program, and a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is expected to be signed in early 2011.

This movement of people from atolls to the mainland of Bougainville is one of the first planned relocation of a population because their land is no longer thought to be suitable for the population on account of sea level rise and environmental degradation. Presently the Autonomous Government of Bougainville is conducting a needs assessment of both the population to be resettled and the community at the proposed relocation site. JRS Australia and UNHCR PNG are providing technical support for this need assessment.

Recommendations
Once JRS decides to intervene in the disaster:
  • JRS educational activities should always incorporate elements of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and community empowerment like Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA).
  • Local culture and beliefs should be acknowledged and included in all activities.
  • International standards (e.g. IASC guidelines, SPHERE) should be combined with local traditions, capacities and contexts.
  • Cross-cutting issues like children, the aged, disabilities, SGBV, HIV/AIDS and the environment must be taken into consideration when responding to natural disasters.
  • The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement as well as the IASC Operational Guidelines on Human Rights and Natural Disasters should guide JRS programme design, implementation and evaluation.
To affected communities
Acknowledge that the people who left after the disaster are not victims but 'survivors'. They survived the most shocking event in their lives because they had the resources to cope with the situation.

The community should be aware that physical reconstruction (houses, schools, boats, etc) goes together with a spiritual reconstruction (social mechanism, relationship, decision-making, traditions etc). The potential and traditions of the community should be the point of departure for further assistance to assess what is already in place. Active and voluntary participation will boost their confidence and empower them as well as support their mental recovery. This will give the survivors a chance to contribute fully, to depend on their capability and to respect their local values.

To other organisations, governments and authorities
Being transparent and inclusive in coordination and collaboration with the community, other organisations, religious institutions and groups, authorities and volunteers from surrounding communities will ensure sustainable community-empowerment, resilience and a durable solution acknowledging local traditions and context.

Next to the community itself state authorities are the principal party responsible for addressing the needs arising after a natural disaster strikes. The state's responsibility and commitment should go further than material assistance and should also include measures to protect the rights, well-being and security of all affected community members. Authorities should pay particular attention to ensuring that special vulnerable groups are included not only in material assistance but also in planning and decision-making processes and that their special concerns are heard and addressed.

The best guarantee for a sustainable solution is a state policy ensuring the human rights of people be upheld and their real needs addressed in a culturally-sensitive manner; and state authorities are motivated and empowered to implement these policies in the best possible way, aiming to do no harm and achieve durable solution for community members. The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and the ISAC Operational Guidelines on Human Rights and Natural Disasters are key documents guiding reflection on policies and praxis.

This human rights approach should aim to avoid all human actions that can cause environmentally-forced migration in the future. Multidisciplinary evaluations that address political, cultural, social, economical and environmental impacts should be held prior to the implementation of development of massive projects of development.

The implementation of disaster-risk reduction programmes is essential. Disasters provide valuable lessons in avoiding future social and humanitarian catastrophes caused by natural disasters.

To donors and other actors in the area of international work
The JRS model of accompaniment should be promoted to other organisations and authorities. Living and sharing with the community helps to build trust and understanding as to how best to achieve a durable solution that will empower the community.