Photograph — Financial Times

About 11 million people were forced out of their homes as a result of conflict and disasters in the first half of this year, a report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) shows. The monitoring group’s mid-year figures reveal that the most significant new internal displacements globally between January and June are associated with conflict, violence, and disasters.

Extreme weather events, particularly cyclones and floods, were responsible for most of the disaster displacement, causing seven million people to leave their homes. Cyclone Fani and cyclone Idai triggered more than four million displacements between them. Floods were similarly devastating, particularly in Iran where they affected around 90 percent of the country and triggered 500,000 new displacements.

A further 3.8 million fled conflict and violence. According to IDMC, fragmented international peace efforts mean that overwhelmingly high numbers continue to be displaced in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Libya. This brings the total figure of displaced people during the period under review to 10.8 million.

“These numbers are … at a concerningly high level and the trend overall is that they are not going down,” IDMC’s Head of Policy and Research, Bina Desai, was quoted as saying by Africanews. “The number of people exposed to displacement risk is increasing as more people live in poverty or insecurity as well as in areas at risk of flooding or other disasters.”

Countries already battered by conflict or disaster are suffering high levels of new displacement, IDMC said while Desai added that a growing number of people face more than one such threat, from poverty or environmental degradation to political instability.

Moreover, IDMC says the total displaced by disaster is expected to grow to about 22 million in 2019. This is because natural climate patterns usually cause a rise in extreme weather events towards the end of the year.

Displacement in Africa

In Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Nigeria, and South Sudan were among the countries with the highest number of new displacements in the first half of 2019. Persistent instability in those countries has left a gap for localized violence to take hold.

Displacement also spiked in porous border areas of West Africa where inter-communal violence has been reignited. The situation in the region has deteriorated in some countries, including Burkina Faso and Mali.

The conflict in Libya escalated with fighting in and around Tripoli as the North African country recorded 137,000 new displacements, a nearly four-fold increase compared with the first half of 2018, data from the report shows.

Ethiopia and the DRC joined Syria and Yemen with the highest levels of displacement due to conflict. DRC recorded 718,000, the result of inter-communal violence and clashes between armed groups in nine provinces. While in Ethiopia, a total of 522,000 were displaced due to conflict.

Also in Ethiopia, flooding that followed drought left 190,000 displaced. Cyclone Idai caused devastating damage over in Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Madagascar in March and triggered 617,000 new displacements, but relatively few were pre-emptive, IDMC says. At 502,000, Mozambique topped the chart in the region with the number of people displaced from the storm.

Displacement now a development issue

Despite the nature of most of the displacement instances, IDMC pointed out that in some cases, high levels of displacement represent success. For example, Cyclone Fani caused more than 3.4 million new displacements in India and Bangladesh, which saw a huge planned evacuation ahead of the storm.

Many of those forced to flee suffered losses but survived and were ultimately able to return home. The response to the cyclone highlights the need for governments to take early action to protect communities and make them more resilient to disasters, the report said.

“In terms of risk reduction and longer-term comprehensive approaches towards addressing conflict displacement, there are opportunities now because a number of countries have started to recognize the issue as a development issue,” Desai said.

According to him, the challenge now on the international community and the donor countries is to really support those opportunities rather than just “perpetuating a reactive humanitarian system.”

IDMC, a Geneva-based monitoring group set up by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), is the world’s foremost authoritative source of data and analysis on internal displacement. Since its establishment in 1998, IDMC has offered a rigorous, independent and trusted service to the international community.

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