Internal displacement is a global challenge, but it is also heavily concentrated in a few countries and triggered by few events. 28 million new internal displacements associated with conflict and disasters across 148 countries and territories were recorded in 2018, with nine countries each accounting for more than a million.
41.3 million people were estimated to be living in internal displacement as a result of conflict and violence in 55 countries as of the end of the year, the highest figure ever recorded. Three-quarters, or 30.9 million people, were located in only ten countries.
Protracted crises, communal violence and unresolved governance challenges were the main factors behind 10.8 million new displacements associated with conflict and violence. Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Syria accounted for more than half of the global figure.
Newly emerging crises forced millions to flee, from Cameroon’s anglophone conflict to waves of violence in Nigeria’s Middle Belt region and unprecedented conflict in Ethiopia. Displacement also continued despite peace efforts in the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Colombia.
Many IDPs remain unaccounted for. Figures for DRC, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sudan and Yemen are considered underestimates, and data is scarce for Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Russia, Turkey and Venezuela. This prevents an accurate assessment of the true scale of internal displacement in these countries. ||Estimating returns continues to be a major challenge.
Large numbers of people reportedly returned to their areas of origin in Ethiopia, Iraq and Nigeria, to conditions which were not conducive to long-lasting reintegration. ||Urban conflict triggered large waves of displacement and has created obstacles to durable solutions. Airstrikes and shelling forced many thousands to flee in Hodeida in Yemen, Tripoli in Libya and Dara’a in Syria. In Mosul in Iraq and Marawi in the Philippines, widespread destruction and unexploded ordnance continued to prevent people from returning home.
Heightened vulnerability and exposure to sudden-onset hazards, particularly storms, resulted in 17.2 million disaster displacements in 144 countries and territories. The number of people displaced by slow-onset disasters worldwide remains unknown as only drought-related displacement is captured in some countries, and only partially.
The devastating power of extreme events highlighted again the impacts of climate change across the globe. Wildfires were a particularly visible expression of this in 2018, from the US and Australia to Greece and elsewhere in southern Europe, displacing hundreds of thousands of people, causing severe damage and preventing swift returns.
Global risk of being displaced by floods is staggeringly high and concentrated in towns and cities: more than 17 million people are at risk of being displaced by floods each year. Of these, more than 80 per cent live in urban and peri-urban areas.
An overlap of conflict and disasters repeatedly displaced people in a number of countries. Drought and conflict triggered similar numbers of displacements in Afghanistan, and extended rainy seasons displaced millions of people in areas of Nigeria and Somalia already affected by conflict. Most of the people displaced by disasters in Iraq and Syria were IDPs living in camps that were flooded.
Promising policy developments in several regions show increased attention to displacement risk. Niger became the first country to domesticate the Kampala Convention by adopting a law on internal displacement, and Kosovo recognised the importance of supporting returning refugees and IDPs, updating its policy to that end. Vanuatu produced a policy on disaster and climate-related displacement, and Fiji showed foresight in adopting new guidelines on resettlement in the context of climate change impacts.
Persistently high levels of new displacement each year coupled with increasingly protracted crises across the globe left 2018 with the highest number of IDPs ever recorded. Despite policy progress in several countries, the root causes of internal displacement are still not being adequately addressed.
Cyclical and protracted displacement continues to be driven by political instability, chronic poverty and inequality, environmental and climate change. Many IDPs are returning to insecure areas with few socio-economic opportunities. Instead of creating the conditions for lasting solutions, this is recreating conditions of risk and increasing the likelihood of crises erupting again in the future.
Ending displacement remains an elusive quest. Precious little information exists on how and when durable solutions are being achieved, and how people and states are progressing toward them.
There is growing evidence that the obstacles to IDPs integrating locally are mostly political. This is also reflected in the almost complete lack of reporting on successful stories of local integration.
The primary responsibility for addressing internal displacement lies with national governments.
Concrete action to protect IDPs and to reduce displacement risk must take place from the national to the local level. Given the ever-growing number of IDPs living in urban centres across the world, this local action will increasingly need to happen in towns and cities.
Effecting change will require the involvement and leadership of displaced people themselves and their urban host communities. More investment is needed at the city level to strengthen the capacity of communities and local authorities to analyse, plan and act jointly. Inclusive legislation, housing provision and service delivery need to become a part of the DNA of urban governance if urban IDPs are to break out of protracted and cyclical displacement.
With displacement increasingly becoming an urban phenomenon, integrated approaches across sectors and more investment in humanitarian, development and peace-building are required. To support local action effectively, the international community must address institutional barriers to coherence, and pursue joined-up funding and programming with a renewed sense of urgency and purpose.
The way ahead is clear. Filling the significant data, analysis and capacity gaps is imperative to progress. Only around a quarter of global internal displacement data is georeferenced and little to no information exists on the duration and severity of displacement across contexts and demographic groups. These gaps prevent the development of strategies to end or reduce the risk of displacement and mean that too many IDPs are still falling between the cracks of protection and assistance.
A systemic approach to filling the data gaps is possible. Common standards and better cooperation and coordination are within our reach and will go a long way in providing the evidence base required for policy work, development planning and humanitarian operations. Appropriate tools for needs assessments, risk analyses, investment planning and progress monitoring already exist and allow states to develop sustainable approaches to displacement. The priority now is to provide national and local authorities with the financial and technical support they will need to apply them.