Skip to main content

Expert Opinion

IDMC’s regional workshop: filling the data gaps on internal displacement in the Central Sahel


There have never been as many internally displaced people (IDPs) in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger as there are today. Over 2.2 million people were living in internal displacement across the three countries at the end of 2021, as a result of conflict, violence, and sudden onset disasters. 

Nevertheless, there have also never been as many initiatives, projects, and programmes in the region to address the impacts of internal displacement and prevent the risk of future displacement.

This week, IDMC is convening and leading a two-day workshop in Dakar, Senegal to support countries in the Central Sahel to improve and harmonise their internal displacement data. Facilitated with IDMC’s parent organisation, the Norwegian Refugee Council, this workshop will welcome representatives from the governments of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, along with UN agencies and NGOs. 

Here are our five main priorities for the workshop: 

1. Addressing data gaps through regional dialogue and the sharing of good practices

Following months of close consultations and peer review processes with the three governments, UN agencies and NGOs, the participants of the workshop will review the existing internal displacement data systems in the three countries and work to develop solutions to improve monitoring and learn from best practices identified across the world. The governments of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger will be presenting their country’s priorities and policies to address internal displacement. IDMC will also be sharing some of the best practices identified on how to measure, prevent, and address internal displacement. Finally, operational actors such as the Norwegian Refugee Council will also be sharing some of the ways they are addressing internal displacement and collecting data on forced movements throughout the workshop.  

2. Understanding and measuring why people are displaced 

The Sahel is one of the regions most affected by drought, where rainfall has decreased by more than 20 per cent since the early 1970s. Despite this, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger continue to be affected by heavy rains and floods each year which displaced hundreds of thousands of people. Conflict and violence have also displaced millions of people in recent years across the three countries, often resulting in the same families being displaced several times. Significant data and knowledge gaps need filling as a matter of urgency to inform measures to increase communities’ resilience and capacity to cope in a changing security and environmental climate. Integrating clear indicators and measures to better understand how different triggers impact communities across the Central Sahel will be one of the main priorities of the workshop. 

3. Understanding and measuring the frequency of displacement

The nature of internal displacement in the Central Sahel can involve people being displaced more than once in their search for shelter, safety, and security. IDPs fleeing conflict may move to a new location and stay there for a few days, but then have to move on when the fighting catches up with them. Others who have fled conflict may later be displaced by a disaster. It is, therefore, vital that all forced movements are captured and understood, as each new displacement heightens the vulnerability of IDPs and increases their needs.

4. Understanding and measuring solutions to internal displacement 

While progress has been made by the governments of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger and UN agencies and NGOs to better understand the issue, measuring the duration and the end of internal displacement remains a key data gap across the region. Although some returns of IDPs are known to have taken place, there is currently very limited data to track the living conditions of individual returnees or households over time. This means there is rarely enough evidence with which to determine whether people have achieved solutions or still face vulnerabilities related to their displacement. Greater efforts are needed to understand how such vulnerabilities evolve over time and what remains to be done so that they are overcome.

5. Understanding how internal displacement impacts different population groups

The current data on internal displacements, or forced movements, allows us to identify general trends, but we need to go beyond the numbers to gain insights into specific population groups and, therefore, better tailor responses to answer their specific needs. While some governments and organizations have made significant progress towards reporting more disaggregated information, data collectors should more consistently scale up efforts to include specific questions about IDPs’ characteristics while conducting displacement assessments

Looking ahead

Widespread floods following unusually heavy rains hit the west Africa region this year and affected millions of people. At the same time, conflict and violence continued unabated and displaced thousands of people.  Despite the scale of the issue, we are currently not able to know how many times one family was forced to flee their home due to the floods or repeated armed attacks, whether their house was destroyed, where they were displaced to, how long they will remain displaced for, whether some of the members of the family have specific needs, and if this will be their only displacement this year. 

These persistent data gaps mean that it is difficult to adequately inform policies, investments, and programs to facilitate solutions and reduce future risk. They are also indicative of the complex humanitarian and development challenge that internal displacement represents, not only for IDPs and their host communities, but also for national governments and the region as a whole. 

The aim of this week’s workshop is to enable dialogue between regional partners and learn from the varied expertise they will bring in informing, responding, and preventing future forced internal displacement.