Development drivers

Context and main issues

People can be forced to flee their home in the context of conflict, generalized violence, natural hazards or environmental degradation, but also because they are forced off their land or out of their homes to make way for new infrastructure and large-scale development investments. Governments may require land for economic development projects or critical infrastructure expansion and expel people in exchange for compensation. In spite of existing safeguards policies, evidence has shown that development-induced displacement can have negative consequences on affected persons that are similar to those in other displacement situations. Access to food and income sources can be obstructed, social networks distorted and assets such as housing or land lost in the process. Compensation mechanisms, when they exist, are rarely sufficient.

Old estimates submit that more people seem to be displaced each year by such development projects at than by conflict, however, there is no solid evidence to back up this claim. The scale of the phenomenon is much less understood than of conflict or disaster displacement. However, case studies suggest that global commitments towards development, such as the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, will lead to an increase in the number of affected people. More research is therefore needed, quantitative as well as qualitative, to get a better picture of the number of people displaced by development investment across the globe, to understand the impact of this type of displacement on affected communities as well as local and national economies and societies, and make visible the trade-offs inherent in national development and investment planning.

Key research areas

IDMC has been reporting global estimates of the number of people displaced by conflicts and natural disasters, but not development projects. This is due to the conceptual complexity of the phenomenon and to the limited availability of data. In 2018, using innovative data collection mechanisms, IDMC has started compiling national, regional and global figures on development-induced displacement, and work towards bridging this knowledge gap.

Development-induced displacement has received less attention than other forms of displacement because it is often perceived as a “necessary evil for the greater good”, pushing some people aside so that the majority can benefit from better infrastructure, access to basic services or economic growth. There is also an assumption that compensation mechanisms solve the problem altogether. Yet these mechanisms are generally insufficient and do not include all the affected persons, leaving many impoverished and marginalised. IDMC has started gathering evidence of the impact of development-induced displacement and will continue to do so through qualitative case studies and quantitative economic impact assessment.

Key research questions:

  • What is are the global and national numbers of persons displaced by large-scale development projects and infrastructure investments?

  • In which regions and countries is development-induced displacement most prevalent and where are the highest risks?

  • Which types of development projects and investments displace the highest numbers of persons?

  • Where development investments are made to provide public goods, who benefits from and who pays for the associated risks and impacts?

  • To what extent will global initiatives on sustainable development such as the Sustainable Development Goals affect the number of persons displaced by development projects in coming years?

  • Are involuntary resettlement policies imposed by international financial institutions efficient in reducing the negative consequences of development-induced displacement?

Related IDMC publications

Expert roundtable on displacement caused by development. August 2017

Two steps forward, one step back: Internal displacement and the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development. July 2017

Case Study Series - Dam Displacement. April 2017

Turkey - Lessons not learned from the Ilisu Dam. April 2017

China - Lessons learned from the Manwan Dam. April 2017

Pushed Aside - Displaced for "Development" in India. July 2016

Brazil: Olympic Games preparations displace thousands in Rio de Janeiro. May 2016

Leaving no one behind: Internal displacement and the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. September 2015

Research partners

The following research partners have shared their knowledge and expertise on development-induced displacement with IDMC in previous years:

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We are always looking to strengthen and expand partnerships. If you are interested in working with us, please contact us at