• There were 40.5 million new internal displacements in 2020 – the highest annual figure for 10 years.
  • These were triggered globally by disasters and violence.
  • Weather-related events accounted for almost all of the 30.7 million disaster-led displacements last year.
  • Governments are starting to put policies in place to help the internally displaced, but more data and more funding is needed.

Every second in 2020 – and in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis – someone was forced to flee their home from extreme weather events or conflict, in a record year for internal displacement.

The latest data from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) shows 40.5 million new displacements – the highest annual figure for 10 years – were triggered globally by disasters and violence last year.

It brings the total number living in internal displacement to 55 million, of which 20 million are children under 15 and 2.6 million are over 65.

“It is particularly concerning that these high figures were recorded against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, when movement restrictions obstructed data collection and fewer people sought out emergency shelters for fear of infection,” said IDMC director Alexandra Bilak.

A record year for internal displacement.
A record year for internal displacement.
Image: IDMC

Why were so many people displaced in 2020?

Climate change appears to be having an impact, although the Global Report on Internal Displacement (GRID 2021) warns the direct causal link has not yet been “convincingly quantified”.

Storms and floods caused the majority of displacements last year – more than three times the 9.8 million displacements caused by conflict and violence. In fact, almost all (98%) of the 30.7 million disaster-led displacements last year were caused by weather-related events.

 55 million people globally are living in displacement.
55 million people globally are living in displacement.
Image: IDMC

Cyclone Amphan, which made landfall in Eastern India and Bangladesh in May 2020, triggered around five million displacements across Bangladesh, India, Bhutan and Myanmar, the IDMC reports.

It also caused around $14 billion in reported economic losses for India, with the UN describing it as the costliest tropical cyclone on record for the North Indian Ocean.

How different disasters have impacted displacement in the past 12 years.
How different disasters have impacted displacement in the past 12 years.
Image: IDMC

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

Climate change poses an urgent threat demanding decisive action. Communities around the world are already experiencing increased climate impacts, from droughts to floods to rising seas. The World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report continues to rank these environmental threats at the top of the list.

To limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C and as close as possible to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, it is essential that businesses, policy-makers, and civil society advance comprehensive near- and long-term climate actions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The World Economic Forum's Climate Initiative supports the scaling and acceleration of global climate action through public and private-sector collaboration. The Initiative works across several workstreams to develop and implement inclusive and ambitious solutions.

This includes the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, a global network of business leaders from various industries developing cost-effective solutions to transitioning to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. CEOs use their position and influence with policy-makers and corporate partners to accelerate the transition and realize the economic benefits of delivering a safer climate.

Contact us to get involved.

Some of the world’s fastest-growing displacement crises are in Ethiopia, Mozambique and Burkina Faso, where violence has escalated and extremist groups have expanded.

Long-running conflicts also caused people to flee their homes, including in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria and Afghanistan, despite the UN Secretary-General António Guterres calling for a global ceasefire to unite against COVID-19.

How can the world respond to the internal displacement crisis?

As the world continues to warm, scientists say climate change and other factors in combination are likely to fuel future displacement, reports the IDMC.

“If the world’s population were to remain at its current level, the risk of flood-related displacement would increase by more than 50% relative to 2000 levels for each degree of global warming.”

Slow-onset effects of climate change, such as desertification, land degradation, loss of biodiversity, ocean acidification, sea level rise will trigger displacement through loss of land, livelihoods, food or water – and these are hard to monitor.

Links between drivers, triggers and impacts of internal displacement associated with climate change, and policy action areas.
Links between drivers, triggers and impacts of internal displacement associated with climate change, and policy action areas.
Image: IDMC

Internal displacement costs both individuals and countries. The IDMC estimates loss of income, and support for housing, education, health and security for internally displaced people in 2020 came to almost $20.5 billion.

Governments are developing national and regional policies to reduce displacement risk and mitigate against climate – and countries are starting to invest in proactive measures, such as planned relocation and local integration, the report says.

“These solutions require strong local governance and decentralized interventions that include the perspectives of those at risk and support community-led livelihood initiatives.”

Filling the data gaps and dispelling misconceptions around displacement – particularly that it’s caused by ‘natural phenomena’ and is short-term – will also be essential to help shape policy and make the case for more flexible and predictable funding, says the IDMC.

“Today’s displacement crises arise from many interconnected factors, including climate and environmental change, protracted conflicts and political instability. In a world made more fragile by the COVID-19 pandemic, sustained political will and investment in locally-owned solutions will be more important than ever,” said Bilak.