15 October 2015 | Justin Ginnetti

From words to action: How IDMC will help governments as the Nansen Initiative shifts to its implementation phase

This week more than 100 governments came together for the Nansen Initiative’s global consultation to discuss what is needed to protect people displaced across borders in the context of disasters and the effects of climate change.


This week, more than 100 governments came together in Geneva for the Nansen Initiative’s global consultation to discuss what is needed to protect people displaced across international borders in the context of disasters and the effects of climate change. This event marks the culmination of the initiative’s first phase, the result of which is the wide endorsement by 110 governments of an “Agenda for the protection of cross-border displaced persons in the context of disasters and climate change” (the “Protection Agenda). 

The Nansen Initiative is an intergovernmental process launched in 2012 by two countries, Norway and Switzerland. The fact that more than 100 additional countries have now joined in support of the Protection Agenda indicates widespread acknowledgement of the challenge of addressing disaster- and climate change-induced displacement. The initiative has been a state-led process which began with a inter-governmental consultation in Rarotonga, Cook Islands, in May 2013. Since then, governments have convened several more times to identify protection and knowledge gaps, effective practices and potential solutions to cross-border displacement caused by disasters and climate change.

Working together with civil society and with experts from the fields of international law, climate change, disaster risk reduction, displacement and migration, the governments’ resulting “Protection Agenda” contains three elements:

  1. Taking stock of today’s realities by collecting data and enhancing knowledge on cross-border disaster-related displacement
  2. Enhancing humanitarian protection measures to include people displaced beyond the borders of their country of origin and
  3. Strengthening the management of displacement risk in countries of origin.

What is IDMC’s role in the Nansen Initiative?

Despite the Nansen Initiative’s cross-border focus, IDMC has actively contributed by producing quantitative disaster-related displacement risk estimates for each of the five sub-regional consultations and a meta-analysis of this risk across the regions

The Nansen Initiative has drawn extensively upon our annual global estimates of people displaced by disasters and climate change. Our Global Estimates reports provide evidence of the scope, scale and patterns of displacement at the national, regional and global level and are the established reference point for governments and policy-makers.

Although the figures we collect do not specify how many of the displaced have crossed international borders, our case studies have revealed some of the more complex patterns of disaster-related displacement across the world, including some cross-border movements. For example we have collected data on the movements from Bangladesh to India following cyclone Aila in 2009, and from Haiti to the Dominican Republic and other countries after the earthquake disaster in 2010. In these cases and many others, a comprehensive understanding of the different trajectories, destinations and related needs and options for all displaced people requires an understanding of both internal and cross-border movements.

Both IDMC and the Nansen Initiative aim to help governments and communities prevent displacement from occurring and to achieve sustainable solutions for people who are already displaced. In order to do this, we have helped stakeholders understand the phenomena of disaster displacement, its causes and its consequences. This has included our contributions to help the Nansen Initiative’s participating states conceptualise disaster-related displacement through the prism of risk. Displacement risk can be summarised as follows:

Disaster-related displacement = Hazard x Exposure x Risk

In this context, displacement isn’t regarded as an “act of God” or an inevitable consequence of a natural hazard. Instead, it is understood to be largely the result of human decisions and processes. (Accordingly, the language from the government pledges in 2011 which launched the Nansen Initiative has shifted from “natural disasters” to just “disasters.”)

From Recommendations to Action: Implementing the Nansen Initiative

Now that the Protection Agenda has been endorsed it will move into its implementation phase, primarily at the national and regional level. IDMC will continue to play a key role in supporting the implementation of the Protection Agenda. For example, we will continue to provide information about future displacement risk and we will begin specifying how many people have become displaced across international borders – a key component of our data model (Figure 1).

 figure 4 02 01

Figure 1: IDMC’s data model, highlighting cross-border displacement

IDMC will also continue to work with partners to develop and share knowledge about displacement in the context of disasters and climate change impacts in order to influence policy debates on these issues. We will begin collecting data on the duration of displacement, with particular attention to protracted and chronic displacement situations, and continue to build knowledge about the phenomenon of displacement, including what drives displaced people across borders—or inhibits them from doing so.

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