Refugee settlements are highly exposed to extreme weather conditions

Sonja Fransen, Anja Werntges, and Alexander Hunns

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Volume 121, Issue 3 (2023), Article e2206189120


This article examines the exposure of refugee settlements to extreme weather conditions. Refugee settlements are often located in isolated and remote areas, with unfavorable land quality and harsh climates.

The analysis compares camp locations to national trends for slow- and rapid-onset events, incorporating descriptive statistics, signal-to-noise analyses, and trend analyses. Drawing on climate and weather data, as well as UNHCR data on the geographic locations of refugee settlements, the authors examine the exposure of the 20 largest refugee camps worldwide to extreme weather conditions from the 1980s to 2020. These 20 largest formal camps represent over 4.5 million of the estimated 6.6 million refugees living in camps in 2021.

Main findings:

  • Most refugee settlements are highly exposed to slow-onset events such as extreme temperatures and low rainfall. Refugee settlements in several countries, including Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Sudan, and Uganda, experience higher than average temperatures. In Jordan and Pakistan, refugee settlements face lower temperatures compared to the national averages. Additionally, settlements in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Kenya, and Uganda have lower levels of rainfall compared to the national averages.
  • Findings for rapid-onset events, such as heatwaves, coldwaves, and extreme rainfall, are less conclusive compared to country trends. However, there is relatively high exposure to extreme rainfall in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. The lack of conclusive evidence on rapid-onset events reflects the nature of rapid-onset events, which tend to be localized and lead to within-country variability.

Refugee settlements are often situated in areas with unfavorable climate conditions, including extreme temperatures and precipitation. This exposes refugee populations to harsh weather, exacerbating their vulnerability and marginalization. To address this, climate adaptation and sustainable development policies should prioritize the inclusion of displaced populations, ensuring equitable and sustainable development in refugee-hosting countries.