Helping Families Fleeing Climate Disasters

Extreme weather events like droughts, floods and cyclones are becoming more frequent and intense. These disasters overlap with conflict in many parts of the world, affecting those with the least resources.

UNHCR recognises that the consequences of climate change are extremely serious and becoming the drivers of refugee movements, and is therefore providing protection and assistance for many people forcibly displaced by related disasters.

Droughts and Desertification

Bawako Noor, a 38-year-old mother, sits with her children in a refugee reception centre in Ethiopia. Bawako has endured eight years of drought in Somalia, and is struggling to keep her herd of cattle alive. When the rains failed again last year, she felt she had no option but to take her children to a refugee camp in Ethiopia. ‘There was nothing more we could do to survive,’ she says. “The river is dry. There is no rain. I left for the sake of my children.”


Esther and her child were lucky to survive when their home was flattened by Cyclone Idai last year. The deadly storm, the largest ever to hit Africa, swept through Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, causing catastrophic damage, widespread flooding and a major humanitarian crisis. The storm left more than a million people like Esther displaced and vulnerable, among them tens of thousands of refugees. The stagnating floodwaters triggered a cholera outbreak and a spike in malaria infections.

Disease Outbreaks

Baby Amina receives emergency treatment for cholera in a hospital in San’a, Yemen. A huge spike in cholera cases came in the wake of a cyclone and large-scale flooding which hit the Yemeni capital in 2019. Amina was one of 724,000 survivors of the deadly outbreak which killed 1,135 people. UNHCR stockpiles treatments for waterborne diseases like this which can spread quickly following climate disasters.

How is UNHCR Responding

Emergency Relief

Emergency shelters, plastic sheets, survival kits, food and cash assistance

Water, Sanitation, Disease Prevention

Provide infrastructure and equipment, prevent disease outbreaks caused by contaminated water and overcrowding

Livelihood Projects

Briquette making, biogas, microcredit and support for sustainable agriculture and small businesses

Sustainable Energy and Resource Management

Solar plants and street lights, fuel-efficient stoves and reforestation projects

Legal Support

Documentation and protection services for displaced and stateless people

Policy Coherence Promotion

Research and mainstreaming of disaster displacement issues across relevant areas


About UNHCR:

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established on 14 December 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. The agency is mandated to lead and coordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee issues. It strives to ensure that everyone has the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another state, with the option to voluntarily return home when conditions are conducive for return, integrate locally or resettle to a third country. UNHCR has twice won the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1954 for its ground-breaking work in helping the refugees of Europe, and in 1981 for its worldwide assistance to refugees.