SOAS University of London

Toward Development Solutions to Internal Displacement: A Political Economy Approach - New report from UN Development Programme (UNDP) in collaboration with SOAS

9 June 2021

Governments the world over must urgently respond to a rapid increase in the number of people forcibly displaced by conflict and climate change, or risk going backwards in development targets, says the report, Towards Development Solutions to Internal Displacement: A Political Economy Approach, released today. 

2020 saw more people uprooted by conflict and crisis than at any other time in recorded history and the global population of internally displaced people (those forced to flee their homes but who stay in their country of origin, as opposed to refugees, who cross international borders), doubled over the last 25 years from about 27 to 55 million. During the same time period, the average amount of time this group of people spent displaced also increased to 17 years. Providing basic services and covering loss of income for internal displacement will cost the world more than $20 billion in 2020.

The new report, Towards Development Solutions to Internal Displacement: A Political Economy Approach, has been produced by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and SOAS University of London. It cautions that this financial burden may harm long-term efforts to improve living standards, because low and middle-income countries host almost all internally displaced people and bear most of the economic burden. It warns that many countries with high populations of displaced people are at risk of failing to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and fight their own battles against poverty.

In 2020, most internally displaced people were forced to flee because of violence or armed conflict. However, disasters, climate change, a degraded environment and extreme weather events are increasingly driving people to uproot from their homes. In Bangladesh alone, the number of people displaced by climate change could reach 13.3 million by 2050.

Today, the countries with the largest populations of internally displaced people are Syria (6.5 million), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (5.2 million), Colombia (4.9 million), Yemen (3.6 million), Afghanistan (3.4 million), Somalia (2.9 million), and Sudan (2.2 million). In these countries, displaced people face an incre Toward Development Solutions to Internal Displacement: A Political Ecoased risk of homelessness, food and water shortages, a lack of access to health care and fewer opportunities for education, vocational training and employment. Many – especially women and young people - are at high risk of forced marriage, human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Laura Hammond, Professor of Development studies at SOAS and author of the report said:

“The record number of people internally displaced and the length of their displacement show that there needs to be a greater emphasis on inclusion, resilience and finding longer-term solutions. Asking who stands to gain or lose from maintaining the conditions that lead to internal displacement, and from working towards comprehensive solutions, will help find practical solutions.”

The paper looks at experiences from Bangladesh, El Salvador, Iraq and Sudan, and considers how vested interests play a role in determining why and how displacement happens, who is displaced and who stays behind, and what is possible in terms of solutions. It argues that anticipating displacement and integrating the needs of affected individuals and communities into national development plans, strategies and laws is often lacking. In 2021, for instance, many national COVID-19 response plans have not included internally displaced people yet. Embedding displacement within a country’s development goals requires giving a say to affected communities in creating those plans. 

With programmes on internal displacement in over 60 countries, UNDP collaborates with national and local governments, justice, security and human rights actors, other UN agencies, the private sector, civil society as well as with people on the move. Towards Development Solutions to Internal Displacement: A Political Economy Approach is part of UNDP submissions to the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement. UNDP’s recommendations include maximizing a development approach to internal displacement to protect lives, provide greater socio-economic integration, address the drivers of forced displacement and reduce discrimination.

Read the report.