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Expert Opinion

Global food insecurity is on the rise, so is internal displacement. What is the relationship?


Sunday 16 October marks World Food Day. As food insecurity reaches unprecedented levels in many parts of the world and shortages become a regular occurrence in everyday life, we use the occasion to stress the particular challenges faced by internally displaced people and the relationship between food security and internal displacement.

The conflict in Ukraine has been severely disrupting food production and the supply of grains and fertilizers since the beginning of 2022, which is contributing to rising food prices globally. Droughts, floods and other extreme weather events driven by a prolonged La Niña phenomenon are also having an impact on food production, which affects farmers’ livelihoods and the wellbeing of entire communities. 

These recent developments are adding to what was already a fragile situation. Both the latest report on The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World and the sixth Annual Global Report on Food Crises highlighted how hunger continues to rise across the world. Conflict, disasters, slow recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and its impacts on national and global economies have all contributed to reversing years of progress made in reducing global food insecurity.   

Surprisingly little is known about how the issue affects internally displaced people (IDPs), and how food (in)security and internal displacement interact. The relationship is complex, as both food systems and displacement dynamics are. This should not, however, be an obstacle to exploring the issue in more detail, especially considering that the number of IDPs last year was the highest ever recorded, and that nearly 90 per cent of them lived in countries or territories experiencing food crises

Anecdotal evidence from various displacement contexts shows that food insecurity can contribute to driving new and repeated displacement, it can aggravate the conditions in which IDPs find themselves and prevent them from reaching durable solutions. Equally, displacement can also lead to food crises, as agricultural lands are left behind or as high numbers of displaced people create unmanageable demand in host areas. 

Aerial view of NRC's water distribution site in Hanano 2 IDP zone in Baidoa, Somalia - part of the emergency drought response project. Photo:Abdulkadir Mohamed/NRC
Aerial view of NRC's water distribution site in Hanano 2 IDP zone in Baidoa, Somalia - part of the emergency drought response project. Photo: Abdulkadir Mohamed/NRC

In Somalia, for example, food and water scarcity linked with drought conditions have displaced more than a million people in 2022 alone. The event is still unfolding but already represents the disaster triggering the highest number of internal displacements in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa since data became available in 2008. In Syria, while there has been a lull in conflict and resulting displacement compared to previous years, an increasing number of people are having to move as they cannot afford to buy food. A spike in the price of the basic food basket is driving what is considered the worse food security crisis in the country’s history. Among the most affected people are many of the 6.7 million IDPs

In Madagascar, severe drought throughout 2021 was followed by high-intensity and consecutive tropical storms earlier this year. The disasters triggered mass displacement and further aggravated the food security of IDPs and host communities, especially in southern areas of the country where acute levels of food insecurity were reported. In Pakistan, more than seven million people were displaced by monsoon floods, in what is the largest disaster displacement event reported globally this year and likely in the last several years. Some have warned that this flood crisis could quickly turn into a food crisis, as crops were damaged and millions of displaced farmers have had their livelihoods disrupted, slowing down food production significantly

Displacement levels reach new records in many parts of the world as we approach the end of 2022 and food insecurity continues to worsen, making the connection between the two phenomena an essential one to unpack to prevent and solve future crises. For this reason, IDMC’s next Global Report on Internal Displacement (GRID), released in May 2023, will focus on analysing the relationship between food insecurity and internal displacement. Bringing together expertise from researchers, practitioners, aid providers and policy makers, GRID 2023 will explore how displacement and food insecurity can act as compounding drivers of crises, and propose ways to bridge what remains a major knowledge gap and an obstacle to achieving  durable solutions.