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Number of IDP’s On The Rise Due to Climate Change

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 24 2012 (IPS) - A staggering 26 million people worldwide currently struggle for survival while being displaced within their own countries, mostly due to armed conflicts. But the number of persons fleeing from natural disasters is on the rise – and the international community has to take measures to handle the increase.

This was stated at a panel discussion Wednesday about the evolution of the protection of rights of internally displaced persons.

“The issue will become more burning. But we have the proper framework to deal with it now,” Ambassador Christian Strohal of Austria, said at the event.

Unlike the case of refugees, fleeing across borders, there is no international treaty that applies directly to internally displaced persons. But in 1992, the U.N. Secretary-General at the time, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, appointed the first representative for internally displaced persons, in order to address the problem.

During the 20 years that have gone by since then, much has been achieved to bring together international regulations of the rights of internally displaced persons, Strohal said. He especially praised the importance of the document “Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement”, from 1998. The guidelines are legally non-binding to states, but nonetheless useful, according to Strohal.

“We should use the guiding principles as weapons,” he said.

Elisabeth Ferris, co-Director of the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement, agreed with Strohal.

“We should all be proud of how much has been accomplished,” she said, going on to emphasise that even if a normative framework on how to handle the issue is now in place, it can not help the fact that the number of internally displaced persons is on the rise.

This is much due to climate change, causing an increase of the number of natural disasters across the globe, forcing people to flee from their homes both in poor and rich countries. Internally displaced persons used to be fleeing from conflict in unstable states, but now the stable Western world is also experiencing the problem, according to Ferris. For example, hundreds of thousands of Americans were displaced after the hurricane Katrina. “It is not a North-South issue anymore,” Ferris said.

Although the majority of internally displaced persons are still fleeing from war in the non-Western world. Syria, Colombia, Myanmar, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Sudan, Somalia, Sri Lanka and the Democratic Republic of Congo are some of the states with the largest populations of internally displaced persons today.

Chaloka Beyani, the current Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of internally displaced persons, appointed in 2010, was also present at the discussion. He stated that the impact of the global guidelines, together with a growing number of states implementing national laws regulating the rights of internally displaced persons, has been tremendous.

But the rise of climate refugees and new conflicts, such as in Syria, is overshadowing the progress being made. “It is a huge challenge we have to deal with,” Beyani concluded.

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