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Expert Opinion

Can you prevent displacement? IDMC unveils new simulator to show how it's done


IDMC has been wrestling with the concept of pastoralist displacement, asking in a recent blog post whether pastoralist communities can become displaced given that they lead traditionally mobile lifestyles. (Answer: they can.)

As discussed in depth in a conceptual study IDMC published with colleagues from NRC and the Nansen Initiative secretariat, we conclude that there is in fact a ‘tipping point’ at which pastoralists fall from voluntary adaptive migration into forced displacement; when coping capacities are exhausted pastoralists fall into a gradual process of impoverishment and become internally displaced.

Having put to rest the initial question, several more questions remain to be explored, including:

  • If pastoralist communities can become displaced, what are the driving factors?
  • How much of this displacement is a result of droughts, floods and other natural hazards?
  • How many pastoralists have been displaced in the past?
  • How many are at risk of being displaced in the future?
  • Is there anything anyone can do to reduce the duration of displacement—or to prevent it from occurring in the first place?

IDMC set about trying to understand and measure this phenomenon, working closely with our partner, Climate Interactive. As our research has progressed, the depth and complexity of the multiple factors involved in pastoralists’ risk to displacement have become ever more apparent. After two years of work on a complex mathematical model aimed at better exploring some of this complexity, IDMC now has the answer to some of these questions. 


Figure 1: High-level diagram of pastoralist displacement dynamics

Unveiling the Pastoralist Livelihoods and Displacement Simulator

One of the results of IDMC’s work in this area is the development of the Pastoralist Livelihoods and Displacement Simulator, an interactive tool that allows people to explore pastoralist displacement in parts of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. Drawing upon historical climate, livestock, demographic and economic data, the simulator is able to reveal how many pastoralists were displaced during the 2010 – 2011 drought in the Horn of Africa – information that has not previously existed.

Past and future pastoralist displacement projections

Figure 2: Past and future pastoralist displacement projections

In addition to replicating displacement patterns observed in the past, the simulator can also allow decision-makers - and even the affected populations themselves -  to explore future displacement scenarios. These scenarios can be based on predicted changes in climate, demographic trends, policy interventions and so forth. In other words, it can be used to actually prevent displacement by demonstrating how changes in variables such as herd composition, livestock marketing, or rangeland productivity and access impact pastoralist livelihoods. For policy makers, the simulator can show the potential impact of different land use and development policies and how they would hold up under existing climate conditions as well under future impacts associated with climate change.

Putting the simulator to use to address pastoralist displacement

Last month, at the Nansen Initiative’s regional consultation in the Horn of Africa, Paul Kimeu, the Drought Resilience Manager of the Government of Kenya’s National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) tested the simulator in front of 120 of his colleagues from around the region. Paul had no previous training on the simulator, but he was very excited by its possible applications: “How can I get this running on our computers?”


Figure 3: Paul Kimeu (left) exploring the Kenya drought management policies with IDMC's Pastoralist Livelihoods and Displacement Simulator

Paul’s question is a good one—and one that IDMC is interested in helping him answer. This summer, IDMC will begin working with Kenya’s NDMA, the International Livestock Research Institute and others to identify the most effective ways to implement Kenya’s national programme to prevent drought-related emergencies and disasters. This will involve developing scenarios that will allow the Government of Kenya to weigh trade-offs between investments in things such as irrigated agriculture, enhanced destocking and restocking initiatives, the use of SMS messaging to improve grazing efficiency, livestock insurance or cash assistance.

As we ramp up efforts within Kenya, IDMC is also beginning to collaborate with Eastern Africa’s Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) in order to help governments in the Horn of Africa and around the world to address displacement risks. One of our next projects, for example, will build on the methods described above to help the Government of Nigeria understand, prevent and prepare for flood-induced displacement.

IDMC will continue to develop methodologies to assess displacement risks to help governments fulfill their responsibility to address vulnerabilities, reduce disaster risks, better manage disaster situations and prevent their citizens from suffering from displacement.

For more information read the full report: Assessing Drought Displacement Risk for Kenyan, Ethiopian and Somali Pastoralists.

And stay tuned for a future blog post in which we’ll demonstrate the simulator in action.