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Why internally displaced people worldwide have hit record high

An unprecedented number of people worldwide were registered as internally displaced worldwide in 2021, according to a joint report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).

59.1 million people were living as IDPs (internally displaced people) in their own countries as a result of conflict or natural disasters at the end of 2021, up from 55 million in 2020. New records are expected to be broken this year as a result of the war in Ukraine.

“The situation today is phenomenally worse than even our record figure suggests, as it doesn’t include nearly eight million people forced to flee the war in Ukraine. We need a titanic shift in thinking from world leaders on how to prevent and resolve conflicts to end this soaring human suffering,” said the secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland.

Around 38 million new internal displacements were reported in 2021 as some people were forced to flee multiple times throughout the year. 2020 had also seen record-breaking numbers, mostly due to natural disasters.

In 2021, conflict and violence triggered were the cause of 14.4 million new displacements, a near 50 percent increase compared to 2020. Sub-Saharan Africa was the most affected region, with more than 5 million displacements in Ethiopia alone, the highest figure ever recorded for a single country as the conflict between the government and Tigrayan rebels that began in November 2020 escalated.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan and Myanmar also registered record new displacements 2021. While the Middle East and North Africa recorded its lowest number in ten years as a result of conflict de-escalation in Syria, Libya and Iraq, the region’s overall number of internally displaced people remains high, suggesting that long-term displacement also needs to be addressed.

Disasters and climate-related displacement 

Internal displacement continued to be driven by disasters, with 23.7 million people forced to flee their homes in 2021, 94 percent of which faced weather-related hazards such as cyclones and floods. China, the Philippines and India alone accounted for around 70 percent of all disaster-related displacement – six million, 5.7 million and 4.9 million respectively, their highest ever numbers. 

Scientists have warned that climate change is increasing the intensity and frequency of such extreme weather events.

Often, the report points out, people are forced to flee several crises as climate-related displacement collides with conflict, while the global economic crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic has increasing food insecurity around the world. According to the UN, 80 percent of the world’s internally displaced people are from countries at the forefront of the climate crisis.

Long term effects of displacement on young people

Around 25.2 million of the world’s internally displaced are under the age of 18, the report says, warning about the long-term effects on their health, education and wellbeing.

“Children and young people are agents of change,” said IDMC’s Director, Alexandra Bilak.

“Recognising them as such is vital to protect development gains and reduce the risk of future crises,” she added. 

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