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close this bookAn Overview of Disaster Management (Department of Humanitarian Affairs/United Nations Disaster Relief Office - United Nations Development Programme , 1992, 136 p.)
close this folderChapter 5. Compound and complex disasters 1
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentSocio/political forces
View the documentDisplaced persons
View the documentThe role of the UN in complex emergencies
View the documentSafety of relief teams in conflict zones

Displaced persons

One of the most serious consequences of compound and complex emergencies is the creation of populations of displaced persons. The example of the Horn of Africa refers to many of the displaced populations but there are millions more in other parts of the world.

The term “displaced person” applies in several contexts. These include people who are:

forced to leave their homes as a result of drought, famine, or other disaster, usually in search of food

non-combatant individuals and families forced to leave their homes because of the direct or indirect consequences of conflict but who remain inside their country

forcibly resettled by their government if the resettlement is ethnically, tribally or racially motivated

expelled from a country, especially as an ethnic or national group, forced out for economic or political reasons.

Reasons for concern

The international humanitarian relief system is just now beginning to meet the challenge of working with the displaced. There are three principle reasons for concern by relief agencies. One is that displaced persons are often ineligible to receive relief and assistance available to refugees (individuals who have crossed an international border seeking protection). A second reason is that the displaced are often insecure about relying on their own government for protection. A third reason is the obstacle of national sovereignty that limits outside agencies to assist this population.

Consequences and effects

The variety of possible situations generating displaced persons makes generalizations difficult, but the following may be experienced in varying degrees.

loss of means of livelihood

communities becoming separated from any services previously provided

loss of normal sources of food

lack of shelter and household necessities

lack of fuel for cooking

lack of potable water

communicable diseases and over-crowding

additional burdens particularly for women heads of households

possibly large numbers of unaccompanied children

loss of land tenure

possible communication and logistics problems

insecurity due to tensions and military activities

Not to be forgotten is the population that may remain at home and, even though they are not “trapped in combat areas,” they nonetheless are in places that are hard to reach because of political, logistical and/or security obstacles. They may suffer many of the above problems and be isolated from international humanitarian relief.