Surge in displacements as Africa meets to tackle climate threat

A charity has said the total number of children in sub-Saharan Africa displaced within their home countries by climate-induced disasters nearly doubled last year, and it is only set to worsen.

As the first African Climate Summit opened in Kenya Save the Children, issued the results of its study which highlighted millions of people have been displaced due to weather events in the past 12 months many of which have been unable to return to their homes.

Based on analysis of data from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, at least 1.85 million children in sub-Saharan Africa were left displaced within their countries by climate shocks at the end of 2022, compared to one million children left displaced by similar crises in 2021. Some of these children were displaced multiple times, while others only once, but all remained displaced from home at the end of the year, living in camps, with extended family, or other temporary arrangements.

Flooding in Borno state and across other parts of Nigeria led to the country having sub-Saharan Africa’s highest number of new internal displacements due to climate disasters in 2022, with 2.4 million displacements. By the end of the year at least 854,000 people remained displaced by these shocks, including an estimated 427,000 children.

Meanwhile in Somalia, five failed rainy seasons forced about 6.6 million people – or 39% of the population- into critical levels of hunger and led to the second highest number of internally displacements at 1.1 million people.

The number of new internal displacements throughout the year across sub-Saharan Africa in 2022 due to such disasters was also three times higher than the previous year, with 7.4 million new internal displacements during 2022 compared to 2.6 million in 2021. This figure includes counts the times people were displaced – sometimes multiples times for one individual – even if they were able to return home by the end of the year.

This is the highest annual number of new displacements from climate disasters ever reported for the region, as the impacts of consecutive climate shocks have begun to sink in and both the resilience of the land and the coping mechanisms of communities become exhausted.

The charity said the figures lay bare the stark reality that the rights of children across the region are being eroded at an alarming rate by the impacts of the climate crisis. Meanwhile, countries on the continent have contributed the least to the crisis, with the smallest share of global greenhouse gas emissions of all the world’s regions.

With the El Niño weather pattern taking hold, causing even more extreme weather events and pushing up global temperatures further, it is likely this figure is only increasing further this year, said the child rights agency.

Kijala Shako, Head of Advocacy, Communications, Campaigns and Media for Save the Children’s East and Southern Africa Regional Office, said: “When children lose their homes, they lose almost everything: their access to healthcare, education, food, and safety. They also lose the building blocks for mental and emotional stability and wellbeing, like a sense of routine, their friends, and the right to play.

“These figures are enough to bring anyone to a standstill and hopefully will spur leaders at Africa Climate Week to wake up to the experiences of children across the region, acknowledge that the climate crisis is having a disastrous impact on their lives, and act urgently to factor in children’s needs and rights into the much-needed response.”

In the Horn of Africa, El Niño is historically associated with above-average rain during the October to December rainy season. As has been evidenced with rains in recent months, rains on the parched ground following almost three years of drought bring further risks of flooding, displacement, food shortages and disease. Meanwhile, the effects of the exceptionally strong El Niño in 2015-2016 caused drought over large parts of southern Africa, which could happen again this time.