Expert analysis

27 January 2021

Displacement severity on the rise after a challenging year

A year ago, we started assessing the severity of internal displacement around the world. Our severity assessment calls attention to situations of particular concern, highlights key threats to IDPs’ safety and wellbeing, and enables us to better measure progress towards durable solutions. Following a difficult year marked by the Covid-19 pandemic, we updated our severity assessment. Here is what we found.  

2020 has seen an increase in displacement severity 

Our severity assessment contains five dimensions that are broadly aligned with the Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s framework for durable solutions: safety and security; livelihoods; housing; services; and civic and social rights. Situations for which information is available on at least three of the five dimensions are attributed a severity score between 0 to 2, with 0 being the least and 2 the most severe. Currently, our severity assessment covers 57 displacement situations in 47 different countries. 

Overall, the average severity score across all situations examined has deteriorated from 1.23 to 1.26 since our first assessment last year. In Iraq, camp closures have forced IDPs into repeated displacement. In Libya, intense fighting between the UN-backed government of national accord and troops led by General Khalifa Haftar combined with Covid-19 restrictions further limited access to employment and services. The situation in Yemen is particularly acute: along with the Central African Republic, IDPs displaced by conflict in Yemen now face the highest possible level of displacement severity, with a severity score of 2. As a result of ongoing conflict, declining levels of assistance and widespread food insecurity, Yemen is considered the country most at risk of a humanitarian catastrophe in 2021. 

Figure 1. Displacement severity has increased sharply in Iraq, Libya and Yemen

Displacement severity has increased across dimensions 

Our most recent assessment has seen displacement severity worsen across all dimensions examined, but particularly in terms of livelihoods. This is unsurprising given the economic repercussions of the pandemic and associated restrictions, which have limited IDPs’ ability to engage in gainful employment. A Somali IDP in Mogadishu told NRC that opportunities for casual work had all but disappeared as a result of the pandemic: 

“People are saying there’s no work, don’t come to us, there’s this virus, stay in your home… We don’t have a source of income. We don’t have money to buy anything.”

Loss of income has exposed many IDPs to the risk of eviction. Fourteen percent of IDPs recently surveyed in Yemen had been forced to leave their homes because of financial difficulties resulting from Covid-19, and a further 33 percent were afraid of being similarly affected.  

The pandemic has also had a negative impact on IDPs’ access to services. Many schools have been forced to close to curb the spread of the virus. However, the drop in service provision should not be blamed solely on Covid-19. Access to services has deteriorated the sharpest in Libya, where many schools have been targeted by violence.  

Despite calls for a global ceasefire by the UN Secretary General, insecurity has increased in many parts of the world. In Côte d’Ivoire, election violence triggered over 14,000 new displacements in October 2020. In Mozambique, Islamist militants stepped up the number and intensity of their attacks in Cabo Delgado province, contributing to 122,000 new displacements in the first half of the year. 

Figure 2. Displacement severity by dimension

Data availability has evolved alongside displacement severity 

After publishing our first assessment of displacement severity, we issued an opinion piece flagging some of the challenges and lessons learned, including the need to find new sources of data to triangulate information.  

In 2020, finding new sources of data became harder than ever due to decreased reporting on internal displacement as a result of the pandemic. These data gaps make it harder to assess displacement severity.  

At the same time however, due to a deterioration in the security conditions in many parts of west and southern Africa, humanitarian actors stepped up their efforts to document the living conditions of IDPs. Despite the pandemic, new data has become available on previously underreported contexts such as Mali, Burkina Faso and Cameroon.  

The availability of new data impacts our calculation of the severity score. Although our latest assessment indicates a decrease in the severity scores of eight of the countries examined, this does not necessarily denote an improvement in displacement severity. For example, thanks to new information on persecution and human rights abuses in Burkina Faso, the score for the security dimension is now based on the average score of three questions, rather than two. The new question was attributed a slightly better score, bringing down the average. As a result, the severity score for Burkina Faso has decreased since the previous assessment, even though IDPs in Burkina Faso continue to face significant threats to their safety and security.  

Despite these limitations, it is clear that Covid-19 has heightened the vulnerability of displaced populations. As the world progressively emerges from the pandemic with the advent of vaccines, we will need to work even harder to support those displaced by conflict, violence and disasters. Our severity assessments, which we expect to update again later this year, can help governments, humanitarian organisations, development actors and other key stakeholders identify situations of concern and monitor progress in responding to displacement.