As climate change drives displacement, what could ease the risks?

A woman smiles while feeding her baby at the New Church of God of Deliverance camp for displaced people, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti June 19, 2023

A woman smiles while feeding her baby at the New Church of God of Deliverance camp for displaced people, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti June 19, 2023. REUTERS/Ralph Tedy Erol

New data points to solutions that could help people return home – or integrate in their new communities

Ugochi Daniels is the deputy director general of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Over the past decade years, the number of internally displaced people (IDP) has more than doubled, from 33 million to 71 million. Now, half of all countries host IDPs, who are often displaced by climate change impacts, conflict and other hardships.

New displacement was driven overwhelmingly by weather-related disasters which caused 53% of the 60.9 million new internal displacements recorded in 2022. This is the highest annual number in a decade – and 2023 alone saw an increase of 41% over the annual average of the past decade.

Results of a new study analysis by IOM’s Global Data Institute and Georgetown University, reveal IDPs displaced by drought are 20 times less likely to return home than IDPs affected by conflict.

That reality has led the U.N. Secretary-General to initiate the Action Agenda, a strategic plan aimed at fostering sustainable and climate-resilient solutions for IDPs, solutions that will either enable them to return to their communities of origin in safety and dignity, or to integrate into new homes.

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On recent trips from the Sahel to the Pacific to visit IDPs and host communities that IOM serves, affected people have told me what our data confirms: people uprooted by drought, floods, and other climate-related and also conflict-related disruptions are grateful for humanitarian assistance and want to get their lives back on track as soon as they can.

Needs are rising and resources are stretched across ever-more emergencies in the context of climate change.

Almost a quarter of total annual humanitarian assistance – a staggering $5 billion annually - goes towards protracted displacement in a fraction of countries with IDPs. Even that sum is only 29% of the $55.2 billion required annually for global humanitarian response plans.

With the rising challenges, what does the data tell us about solutions?

The length of displacement affects possible solutions: The longer IDPs are displaced, the more likely they are to prefer local integration or settlement elsewhere rather than return to their country of origin. There are important variations depending on whether displacement is caused by conflict or disaster and whether IDPs are living in camps or with host communities.

Gender matters: Female-headed households are more likely to lack a stable income and need to rely on humanitarian assistance. In addition, people living in camps have a higher concern about safety, especially for woman and girls, than IDPs living elsewhere. The IDPs said the lack of safety in camps was a motivating factor in their desire to return home.

Adequate housing is related to stable income: Around the world we see that IDPs without adequate housing are 3.5 times more likely to rely on humanitarian assistance. Our data shows that IDPs with adequate housing are on average twice as likely to have stable income, and adequate housing correlates with host community integration, and a sense of belonging that enhances social cohesion.

This is the time to shift the debate from when displacement ends, to when solutions begin.

Just a few days ago at COP28, countries put real money on the table – half a billion dollars in the first pledges including both UAE as a developing country and host of COP28, and developed countries—to make a loss and damage fund real.

Delivering solutions for displacement at scale also means translating the needs of communities we serve into the design of funding arrangements that augment adaptive social protection and anticipatory approaches, leveraging existing funds like the Central Emergency Response Fund and country-based pooled funds, the Migration Multi-Partner Trust Fund, and regional initiatives like the Pacific Resilience Facility.

This support will enable exactly the people-centred, data-driven solutions needed for some of the world’s most vulnerable populations to address climate displacement.

Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Context or the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


  • Extreme weather
  • Climate policy
  • Climate and health
  • Climate inequality
  • Loss and damage

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