"Same, Same, But Different"

Categories: Natural Disasters

In Thailand, it is not rare for one to hear the phrase “Same, same, but different.” While seemingly contradictory, and even suggested to have merely originated from broken English rather than a philosophical understanding, the phrase is accepted as a simple truth; while things might seem similar, there are still certain nuances that distinguish them. This sentiment can often apply to issues of displacement.

Refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) might endure similar circumstances, or even flee from the same conflict, but they still face different struggles and receive varying levels of assistance and attention.

Natural disasters and armed conflict might both drive displacement but each cause distinct degrees of frequency, challenges, and outcomes. Kenya and the Philippines might both have a long history of displacement and a high population of IDPs, but each deal with its own diverse set of problems and solutions. This paper aims to compare the issue of IDPs in Kenya and the Philippines, with emphasis on the differences between conflict and disaster-driven displacement.

In particular, it evaluates the crisis and responses after Kenya’s 2007 post-election crisis and the Philippines’ Haiyan Typhoon. While solutions to displacement are often only discussed in the context of resettlement, this paper will argue that often displacement is man-caused due to a lack of preparedness in the face of disaster and conflict. Given that both countries have held some of the largest and most consistent populations of IDPs over the last decade, it is important to analyze their historical approaches to displacement, to provide suggestions for future approaches.

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Before the 2007 Election Crisis, Kenya was held up as the symbol of peace and stability in a fragile region. Despite this perception, a long history of ethnic conflict, post-election violence, and even mass displacement existed in Kenya leading up to 2007. Having over 70 distinct ethnic groups, social tensions (especially between the Kalenjin and the Kikuyus) were prominent since the pre-colonial days, predominantly over the control of scarce land and inadequate resources. While the international community viewed Kenya’s decision to switch to a multi-party system in 1991 as a sign of progress in its trajectory towards democracy and even pressured this development, Kenyan leaders already foresaw its implications on pre-existing ethnic tensions. President Moi, in particular, warned that “Kenya’s return to a multi-party system would threaten the State, polarize the country along tribal lines and plunge it into ethnic violence.” Following suit, elections became heavily ethnically affiliated. Each party’s supporters have historically been geographically divided, representing each ethnic group’s physical concentration. (CITE) This allowed elites to use ethnicity as a road to power and elections as a tool for exclusion, encouraging patronage, undermining democratization, and perpetuating ethnic polarization. Due to the high centralization and personalization of power around the executive in the country, tribes believe someone of their own must hold the presidency to benefit from the state’s resources. (CITE) Tribes feared that if the president was not of their own, they were guaranteed to live in continued poverty.

As a result, ethnic violence followed each election cycle since 1991, resulting in a long history of displacement before 2007. The clashes surrounding the 1992 election, for example, affected more than 300,000 people, killing 779 people and leaving over 56,000 people displaced. In the 1997 elections, over 200 people were killed and 100,000 people were displaced. Despite this, the government did not expressly recognize the presence of IDPs before the 2007 post-election crisis. In addition to ethnic tensions, high crime rates and a growing culture of impunity paved way for the 2007 post-election violence. Due to the slow job creation, Kenya has struggled with a long history of youth unemployment. With nearly 23% of youth unemployed in 2007, a growing number of these people looked towards youth gangs and militias for economic opportunity, allowing these violent actors to grow and expand. Despite the government implementing a ban against them, they stayed active and were even identified as the primary perpetrators of electoral violence. Additionally, due to the country’s historical inability of holding past criminals accountable for electoral violence, among other forms, individuals were more inclined to commit crimes as they knew there would be no legal punishment. Political violence became standard practice around elections, as no one was ever prosecuted for hate speech or financing crime.

Despite these warning signs, no preparation was done on Kenya’s part to prevent post-election violence in 2007. While the conflict was rooted in longstanding ethnic tensions and land grabs, it was triggered by accusations of electoral fraud, an occurrence that was not uncommon across the world, even in some developed democracies. However, political and historical factors allowed the conflict to escalate greatly. In the presidential race, Raila Odinga, from the Luo ethnic ground, led the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), while his opponent and former president, Mwai Kibaki, from the Kikuyu village, represented an alliance called the Party of National Unity (PNU). After Kibaki was declared the winner, Odinga alleged electoral manipulation, sparking violence across the nation. Raila Odinga encouraged supporters to engage in mass protests through announcements he made on local television and radio stations. In reportedly “maintaining peace,” Kenyan police fired shots against hundreds of violent demonstrators, with some incidents documented on TV. While the demonstrations merely started to stand against Kenya’s long history of corruption and fraud, ODM supporters began conducting targeted killings ensued against PNU voters and the Kikuyu community, as a form of revenge for “stealing” the election from them. There were even alleged reports that ODM supporters funded youth gangs to attack Kibaki’s supporters, particularly in the Rift Valley region. Kikuyu youth mobs immediately organized counter-attacks, escalating violence even further, leading to the deaths of more than a thousand people and escalating concerns of a full-blown civil war. Many feared being attacked in their homes as regions were heavily ethnically affiliated, causing over 600,000 people to become displaced. During this period, Kenya saw its largest number of IDPs from a violent conflict, forcing them to acknowledge the issue of displacement.

While widespread violence, such as that described in Kenya, is the main reason for internal displacement, natural disasters continue to displace huge portions of the population even more so than armed conflicts. In 2017, while the number of new internal displacements associated with conflict almost doubled (from 6.8 million in 2016 to 11.8 million), the number of those displaced by natural disasters still nearly doubled that final figure, standing at about 18.8 million new internal displacements across 135 countries. The newest IDMC report shows that in the first half of 2018, “39% of new internal displacements were triggered by conflict and 61% by disasters.” According to the study, “Weather-related hazards triggered the vast majority of the new displacements, with floods accounting for 8.6 million, and storms, mainly tropical cyclones, 7.5 million.”

Regardless of attention and volume, people suffering from disaster-driven and conflict-induced displacement suffer parallel experiences and often need similar assistance. They are forced to leave their homes, lose possession of their items (including documents they might need to access public services), and are more vulnerable to trauma and depression. In both situations, vulnerable groups suffer more. Women are not only more likely to suffer from sexual abuse in conflict zones, but also three to four times more likely to drown in a flood than their male counterparts. Ethnic minorities are not only more susceptible to death in armed conflicts, but also more severely suffer from the effects of natural disasters.

All of these trends were present in the Philippines’ experience with Typhoon Haiyan. The strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded, and the deadliest in Philippine history, it led to “an estimated 6,201 individuals dead, 28,626 injured and 1,785 still missing.” The most affected area, Tacloban City, was estimated to have been 90% destroyed. Despite only making landfall for two days, Typhoon Haiyan devastated 1.1 million homes, with 550,928 of them being destroyed, and disrupted the livelihoods of over 5.9 million workers, leaving over 4.1 million people displaced. Standing as possibly the most expensive disaster in Philippine history, its economic impact was estimated at $5.8 million, due to its destruction of over 71,000 hectares of farmland, damage to the airport and thus tourism, and effect on fishing communities, destroying around 30,000 boats. To qualify its’ magnitude, others have noted that “Violent tropical storms, such as the latest Haiyan typhoon, can generate 10 times as much energy as the Hiroshima atomic bomb.”

Storms were not new to the Philippines. A conglomerate of over 7,000 islands facing the Pacific Ocean, it faces an average of over 20 typhoons yearly. It is the country most exposed to tropical storms in the world. In fact, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC), 1/4 of the typhoons that develop above tropical waters enter the Philippines, with about half of the world’s strongest typhoons measured at landfall having hit the country. Additionally, lying in the Pacific Ring of Fire (where over 90% of the world’s earthquakes occur and all but three of the world’s 25 largest volcanic eruptions occurred), the country is susceptible to a range of natural disasters. Just a month before Typhoon Haiyan, a nearby region, Bohol, experienced a 7.1 magnitude earthquake that killed at least 222 people and displaced around 350,000. IDPs have not even been resettled when the storms hit their temporary shelters, making them the most vulnerable during the storm.

While conflict-driven displacement is often viewed as man-caused, as it is a result of state instability and armed violence, a natural disaster is usually perceived by the general public as something out of our control, being the result of earthquakes, cyclones, and floods that we have no way of stopping. Because of this interpretation (among other factors), conflict-driven displacement often gains more attention, as it represents the central push of humanitarian action: responding to those affected by violence and serving as the saviors against the worst evils of mankind. This has caused a huge lack of attention and mishandling of natural disasters, widely shifting blame away from human error and creating a cycle of inadequate public response.

Contrary to public belief that natural disasters are merely uncontrollable natural hazards that cause high fatalities, the UN defines them as: “consequences of events triggered by natural hazards that overwhelm local response capacity and seriously affect the social and economic development of a region.” (CITE) This means a sudden earthquake in a remote and uninhabited island would necessarily constitute a disaster, and oftentimes, some degree of the damage could have been prevented and mitigated through building stronger prevention mechanisms and improving response capacity.

The Philippines’ poor preparation, despite its long history of dealing with natural disasters, was exposed by Typhoon Haiyan in the face of storm surges. Lucille Sering, the secretary of the government’s Climate Change Commission, even stated “Now, looking back, the preparations were not enough, especially in Tacloban.” While the government had successfully evacuated around 700,000 people, the evacuants constituted mostly of women and children, as the men stayed home to fend against possible looters. As early as November 4, local officials disseminated storm warnings, however, there was a miscommunication in its strength and urgency. In a study held by _____, it was found that the greatest cause of mortality during Typhoon Haiyan was drowning in or near one’s home due to not evacuating. 89% of the interviewees from Tacloban city stated that while they were warned about the storm surge, they did not understand what the phrase meant and over 90% stated that they did not know staying in their homes was unsafe. Information given by PAGASA was said to be too technical, as they explained storm surges as “dagko Nga balod” (“very big waves”). Having dealt with flooding in the past, people thought that their houses could withstand these “strong waves” and did not feel the need to evacuate. Jerry Yaokasin, the vice president of Tacloban even said “people didn’t believe us because it was so sunny” and that “some people were even laughing.”

Apart from proper information dissemination and evacuation, aid delivery was also an issue in the region. Due to the earthquake in Bohol and the conflict in the south, foreign aid agencies were stretched in resources before the storm struck. Additionally, the organization had a difficult time sending equipment and personnel to the region, as the government prioritized the deployment of soldiers due to widespread looting at the weekend. While more than 30 countries pledged aid, distribution was nearly impossible due to impassable roads, making the roundtrip from the airport to the city center last nearly 6 hours. These issues would have easily been resolved by better local infrastructure and planned response mechanisms.

It is important to note however that the damage was still largely due to the characteristic of the disaster: Haiyan was not only the strongest but also the fastest typhoon, causing an amplification of storm surge and insufficient time for local people to prepare and evacuate. Likewise, even those in the evacuation centers were vulnerable to the storm due to the country’s poor infrastructure. Many died in the basement of Tacloban City Convention Center, an evacuation site, due to the storm surge, and even supposedly stormproof shelters were destroyed.

Despite facing two completely different crises, both the Philippines and Kenya faced large populations of displacement due to their lack of preparation despite clear early warning signs. Both countries had experienced a similar crisis in the past, as the Philippines has faced tough storms and Kenya has had a history of post-election violence, yet despite this, no new prevention strategies nor response mechanisms were deployed. This has caused a prolonging of displacement in both places. Five years after the conflict, PH IDP Numbers and Kenya IDP Numbers. While this is in part because of the countries’ economic status, political motivations and lack of legal clarity in terms of handling IDPs have in part caused a substantial part of the issue.

While there is widespread knowledge of what constitutes a refugee, there is often a lack of attention toward internally displaced persons. There isn’t even an authoritative definition for what constitutes an IDP. The closest characterization comes from a United Nations report which describes them as “persons who have been forced or obliged to flee… (their homes as a result of) armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized state border.” However, it is important to point out that rather than a stringent legal definition, the guiding principles offer ‘a descriptive identification of the category of persons whose needs are the concern of the (document).’

This ambiguity has often led to an arguably gaping hole in global initiatives to specifically address the issue of IDPs. Despite their large number, there is no formal coordination in handling IDPs and they are often sidelined by international aid and development projects. Twenty years after the guiding principles were published, there is still no single U.N. agency or convention tasked with IDP protection. Alexandra Bilak, the director of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, has asserted that the legal hole is what has created either “huge gaps in the response… (or) overlaps between different agencies.”

A lot of the issues that Kenya faced during resettlement could have easily been resolved if there existed a legal regime protecting IDPs, similar to the protections refugees hold under the 1951 Convention, 1967 Protocols, and OAU 1969 Convention. Due to issues of national sovereignty, it is widely accepted that the government concerned has the responsibility to protect IDPs within their borders. According to the International Peace Institute, “If they are not, or are no longer, on the other side of an international border, vulnerable populations will not be protected by international refugee law.” Especially when political violence is the cause of displacement in the country, such as in Kenya, intervention from the international community can be somewhat limited due to the principle of non-intervention in Article 2(7) of the UN Charter which upholds the principle of territorial integrity of countries over human rights concerns (Barnett, 2002; Mackintosh, 2000). Because of this, the rights of IDPs can often become subject to abuse as there is no legal nor institutional measure to hold the government accountable in the case where they were to abuse their fundamental rights. In the case of Kenya, the government’s lack of regard for the IDP’s security has led to increased danger and inhibited their resettlement. For example, the lack of efficient IDP profiling allowed imposters to infiltrate IDP camps, taking aid and land away from IDPs through benefitting from the assistance programs and endangering vulnerable populations. Despite political instability and threats of violence, the government demanded IDPs to return to their homes within a hundred days, forcing most to return against their will, “raising protection concerns, and may even re-ignite localized violence.”

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"Same, Same, But Different". (2022, May 29). Retrieved from http://envrexperts.com/free-essays/essay-about-same-same-but-different

"Same, Same, But Different"
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