Ruinous floodwaters, pipe-bursting cold, and destructive wind do not discriminate when it comes to victims. But while natural disasters may strike without prejudice, the path to recovering from them is much less equal.
To start, natural disasters displace a tremendous number of people every year. A new report from the Norwegian Refugee Council and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre finds that in 2014, more than 19 million people around the world were forced from their homes due to natural disasters. On average, over 22 million people have been displaced each year since 2008 because of climate or weather-related disasters. And rising sea levels, sudden temperature swings and other problems hint that things will only get worse; around the globe, the chance of being displaced by a natural disaster is 60 percent higher today than it was in the 1970s.
While a tragedy that leaves hundreds of thousands adrift might receive lots of attention in the moment, interest and aid are often fleeting. That’s especially the case for the many families unable to rebuild or return to their homes, considering that the researchers turned up evidence of victims who had been displaced after a disaster for as long as 26 years.
Major damage and displacement due to natural disasters disproportionately affect those living in the developing world, where such occurrences are far more common (because of less developed infrastructure and emergency-response plans). But helping and rehousing natural-disaster victims can be just as difficult in the U.S. In rich countries, the most vulnerable groups are still the ones who suffer the most in the aftermath of a natural disaster.