The cost of internal displacement

Syrian refugee camp in the outskirts of Athens, Greece Syrian refugee camp in the outskirts of Athens, Greece © Photo by Julie Ricard on Unsplash

This article is a  brief presentation of the latest report published by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre on the cost of internal displacement

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) has estimated that the total global economic impact of internal displacement in 2019 came to  around $20 billion, this up from $13 billion in 2017, representing a 53% increase in just two years.

Gathering data for 22 countries, the IDMC has highlighted the financial strain that internal displacement can have on fragile national economies often already overstretched by years of prolonged conflict. The report measures the consequences of internal displacement on housing, livelihoods, education, health, and security. For each metric, the average cost of each internally displaced person (IDP) is assessed for each year of displacement and the information is then adjusted to reflect that not all IDPs are made to experience the same circumstances. 

Among the countries included in the study are the ten that reported the highest number of IDPst in 2019 due to armed conflict (Syria, Colombia, the DRC, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, Nigeria, Sudan, Iraq and Ethiopia), as well as the six countries with the highest recorded number of IDPs as a result of disaster (Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, the DRC and Nigeria). 

The IDMC reports that, out of the 22 countries for which data was available, Syria, the DRC, Yemen, Iraq and Somalia saw the highest total economic impact of internal displacement in 2019. This may be linked to changes in the needs of IDPs because of ongoing crises: these countries – together with Afghanistan and Colombia – are facing some of the most severe and protracted internal displacement crises in the world. In Yemen, for example, the proportion of IDPs in need of food assistance increased from 80 percent in 2017 to 100 percent in 2019, as the impact of continued long-term displacement and severe economic decline led to acute food shortages.

The estimates presented in the study are conservative, as they do not take into consideration some of the longer-term repercussions of displacement on the lives of IDPs, such as the potential impact that an incomplete education could have on a child’s future income, but they paint a clear picture of the immediate humanitarian needs of IDPs. For instance, the data revealed that the largest gaps in humanitarian funding in 2019 were in the provision of housing and security, which was also the case during the previous year. The findings also show that the greatest financial burden of internal displacement is unequivocally caused by the loss of livelihoods, perhaps most potent within Syria as the country enters its tenth year of major civil unrest. This information can help governments tailor their intervention, persuading them to include long-term planning and investment for livelihood opportunities in their crisis response strategies. 

The global number of IDPs reached a record high in 2019, with 50.8 million recorded on 31 December 2019. This number is likely below the true figures due to the lack of available data in violent regions; however, it indicates that the global humanitarian context is deteriorating. Amid a period of intense political strife, health challenges and depletion of resources due to climate change, the need for humanitarian assistance is likely to only keep escalating. The IDMC’s report is the latest in a series to reiterate that more needs to be done to prevent and reduce displacement, and it makes the strong case that investing in long-term solutions will not only be beneficial for the security and wellbeing of the millions of IDPs affected by conflict, violence, and disasters worldwide, but will also help host communities, societies and national economies as a whole.


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Author: Giulia Ferrara; Editor: Xavier Atkins

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