Development environment

Slow-onset disasters

Displacement under deteriorating conditions associated with drought and other gradual environmental processes such as land and forest degradation, desertification, sea-level rise, erosion, salinization and glacial retreat is often associated with the gradual loss of viable livelihoods, habitable land and security. Climate change is a critical driver exacerbating them all.

These hazards and processes do not act alone however. Current and future displacement risk is determined in large part by where households’ and communities’ live (their exposure) together with their resilience or vulnerability to recurrent or persistent environmental shocks and stresses. Building data and knowledge about displacement in such contexts requires capturing the complex and cumulative impacts of multiple social, demographic, economic and political drivers.

The worst impacts of slow-onset hazards and processes take months to decades to manifest. Population movements in these contexts are best understood along a continuum from voluntary to forced, with some households using migration as an early adaptive measure to increase their resilience. Patterns of displacement among people in severe distress may involve dispersed movements as well as tipping points into whole community displacements. At the same time, others unable to move away, may become trapped in life-threatening situations.

While knowledge about the nexus between displacement and slow-onset disasters, gradual environmental degradation and climate change has greatly increased, significant gaps remain. Displacement data and robust modelling of such situations to understand its drivers, scope, patterns and impacts and prospective risk remains scarce or anecdotal.

Our work

Our monitoring and research will tackle this knowledge gap by further developing methodological approaches and tools to capture displacement in slow-onset contexts, including through promoting and strengthening data collection and system dynamics approaches to analysis and risk modelling.

We will build policy-relevant evidence from a synthesis of the current state of knowledge about the nexus between displacement and the role of gradual processes of environmental change, including the adverse effects of climate change.

Working with a wide range of partners, we are increase our ability to identify and quantify displacement to provide a better understanding of its scope, patterns, trends and impacts in complement to our global displacement monitoring and data in other contexts.  

We will pay particular attention to vulnerable groups in these contexts and what their specific needs are in relation to displacement, including women, children, older people, people with disabilities and marginalised communities, such as indigenous peoples.