Internal Displacement - Overview

In the words of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, "displacement remains arguably the most significant humanitarian challenge that we face.” 

In 2007, the estimated number of people displaced within their own country by armed conflict and violence passed the 26-million mark. Many more millions are displaced every year due to natural disasters, large-scale developments and the humanitarian consequences of climate change.

The United Nations and internal displacement

UNHCR has assisted refugees for over 50 years. However, no single United Nations agency is dedicated to the needs and rights of people who have been internally displaced (IDPs). OCHA is responsible for coordinating the United Nations agencies, NGOs and civil society whose services help internally displaced men, women and children in need.

In 1996, the General Assembly tasked the Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC) to take a central role in the inter-agency coordination of protecting and assisting IDPs. OCHA supports the ERC’s mandate through coordination, advocacy, resource mobilization and policy development at the global and field levels. Since 2007, Displacement and Protection Support Services in OCHA Geneva has supported the ERC in carrying out these responsibilities.

Internal displacement: facts and figures

  • It is estimated that up to 50 million people are displaced in any given year by natural disasters.
  • At the end of 2007, 1 per cent of the world's 6.7 billion people are estimated to be displaced within their own countries by armed conflict, violence, large-scale development projects and natural disasters. Africa hosted almost half of those who were displaced by violence in the world.
  • Countries that have experienced the highest number of violence-induced displacements: Sudan (5.8 million), Colombia (up to 4 million), Iraq (2.5 million), Democratic Republic of the Congo (1.4 million) and Uganda (1.3 million).
  • The 2004 tsunami displaced 2.2 million people in 12 countries.
  • In Bangladesh, 4.4 million people were displaced by Cyclone Sidr and floods in 2007.
  • 15 million people were displaced by the Sichuan earthquake in China, May 2008.
  • In January 2010, an earthquake wreaked havoc in Haiti. Widespread destruction in Port-au-Prince left over 1.5 million people homeless, many of whom resettled in over 1,354 spontaneous settlement sites across the earthquake-affected area while 661,000 people fled the capital for the regions. 

Kampala Convention

This legally binding Convention provides a framework for enhancing the protection and assistance to IDPs in Africa. It was signed by 17 African States at the end of a summit in Kampala, Uganda, on 23 October 2009. 

The treaty was welcomed by Walter Kälin, Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons. He said: "It covers all causes of displacement. It is forceful in terms of responsibility and goes beyond addressing the roles of states to those of others like the AU and non-state actors."

Fifteen African governments must ratify the Kampala Convention for it to come into force. In February 2010, Uganda became the first African Union Member State to ratify the Convention.

Useful Links
Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre
Brookings Bern project on internal displacement
Protection cluster website
IRIN films on Displacement