Conflict and natural disasters drove millions of people from their homes last year, bringing the total number of displaced people to a record high of nearly 60 million, according to a study released Thursday by NGOs.
Internally displaced people numbered 59.1 million in 2021, nearly half of whom were under 18 years old, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).
Year on year, this figure – which therefore does not include refugees abroad – continues to grow, and a new record is expected to be set in 2022 due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began on February 24.
This is the second highest annual figure in a decade, behind 2020, which saw a record number of displacements due to a series of natural disasters.
“The year 2022 looks bleak,” including the war in Ukraine, IDMC director Alexandra Bilak warned at a press conference.
More than eight million people were internally displaced in Ukraine, more than two months after the invasion of the country by Russia, according to the UN.
The situation in the world “has never been so bad”, observed the secretary general of the NRC, Jan Egeland, who assures that “the world is falling apart”.
“The situation today is really incredibly much worse than our record figure suggests. We need world leaders to make a titanic shift in their thinking about conflict avoidance and resolution, to stop this spiraling human suffering,” he said.
Last year, sub-Saharan Africa was the region with the highest number of internal displacements (many people moving more than once), including more than five million in Ethiopia alone, a country in the grip of severe drought and where conflict broke out in late 2020 in the Tigray region. This is the highest number ever recorded in a single country.
Unprecedented numbers were also recorded last year in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Afghanistan, where the return of the Taliban to power combined with drought has caused many people to flee their homes.
In Burma, where the military took power in a coup in February 2021, displacement also reached record levels.
The Middle East and North Africa, on the other hand, saw the lowest levels of new displacement in a decade as conflicts in Syria, Libya, and Iraq de-escalated somewhat, but the total number of displaced people in the region remains high.
For example, Syria still had the largest number of conflict-induced IDPs, at 6.7 million at the end of 2021. This is followed by the DRC (5.3 million) and Colombia (5.2 million), as well as Afghanistan and Yemen (4.3 million each).
Although the number of people displaced by conflict continues to grow, natural disasters remain the primary reason people are forced to flee their homes (23.7 million displacements in 2021).
As many as 94% of these displacements were attributed to weather and climate-related disasters, such as cyclones, floods and drought, which are becoming more frequent and intense due to climate change.
70% of the internal displacement related to natural disasters in 2021 was recorded in China, the Philippines and India.
But increasingly, conflict and natural disasters are going hand in hand, Egeland said.