Today on World Refugee Day, we hear once again that the number of people forcibly displaced due to conflict and persecution has increased to 65.6 million by the end of 2016, according to UNHCR’s latest Global Trends report.
These numbers have served to galvanize attention to the severity of this crisis, providing momentum for the global community to take action. At the same time, these numbers have caused anxieties among many hosts, especially in OECD countries. Taking center stage in the political debate, it has raised questions over their ability to support all of those fleeing conflict, at times leading to fear and rising anti-refugee sentiments.
Have we really entered a “new world” where population movements are on a scale never experienced before, calling for extraordinary measures to stop the flow? To answer this question, it’s worth taking a closer look at the numbers.
As the world marks World Refugee Day on June 20, we must remember that it is not only the refugee crisis that is hampering development efforts in many countries. There is also a silent emerging crisis of people driven from their homes to another part of their own country, people known as internally displaced persons (IDPs). It is a growing issue that several countries are facing, with enormous social and political pressures to address.
In Afghanistan, there are an estimated 1.2 million people who are internally displaced because of insecurity or are being forced to leave their homes due to natural disasters. This is in addition to the nearly 6 million people who have returned to Afghanistan since 2002, making one in five Afghans a returnee. In 2016, more than 620,000 Afghans returned from Pakistan alone.
The massive influx of returnees and IDPs is placing tremendous pressure on Afghanistan’s already fragile social and economic infrastructure and is a threat to regional stability.
When I first took up my position as Country Director of the World Bank for Afghanistan, I was struck by the plight of returnees and IDPs and by how hard-pressed the Afghan government was in dealing with them. During my first days in office, back in November 2016, I visited a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) center on the outskirts of Kabul. The center serves as the first entry point for returnees where they can receive assistance—including cash—and attend awareness and safety sessions to help them better integrate in their new communities.
If you were forced to run for your life, amidst falling bombs or as a hurricane approaches, what would you grab after your children and loved ones? You would be well advised to make your identity documents one of the first things to pack. Birth certificates, national ID cards, passports, residence permits, even a driver’s license—documents like these will be necessary to prove who you are to the authorities in the country to which you flee, and the authorities in your home country when it is safe to return.
Last week, a tanker truck, one of many roaming the streets of Kabul, navigated through bumper-to-bumper traffic, going past government buildings and embassies, to Zanbaq Square. When stopped at a checkpoint, more than 1,500 kg of explosives that had been hidden in the tank were detonated. It was 8:22 am and many Afghans were on their way to work and children were going to school. The explosion killed 150 commuters and bystanders, and injured hundreds more. This is just one of many incidents that affects Afghans’ lives and livelihoods.
Conflict has constantly increased over the past years, spreading to most of Afghanistan, with the number of security incidents and civilian casualties breaking records in 2016. According to the Global Peace Index, Afghanistan was the fourth least peaceful country on earth in 2016, after Syria, South Sudan, and Iraq. The intensification and the geographical reach of conflict has increased the number of people internally displaced. According to the latest United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) data, over 670,000 people were internally displaced in 2016 alone.
Against this backdrop, our recent World Bank report, the “Afghanistan Poverty Status Update: Progress at Risk”, shows that not surprisingly violence and insecurity pose increasing risks to the welfare of Afghan households. Approximately 17 percent of households reported exposure to security-related shocks in 2013–14, up from 15 percent in 2011–12 according to data from the Afghanistan Living Conditions Survey (ALCS). This is largely in line with the actual incidence of conflict incidents as reported by the United Nations Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS).
In Kenya, and refugee-hosting countries in Africa, the camp-based protection and humanitarian assistance model has been the default response to the often-protracted forced displacement situations. The underlying assumption has been that it would be impossible or undesirable for refugees to be self-sufficient while waiting for peace to return to their countries of origin.
Therefore, it is not a surprise that refugees from South Sudan and other neighboring countries in north-western Kenya are being assisted in the Kakuma Refugee Camp, which has been hosting refugees since early 1990s. Several waves of refugees have come and gone over the past 25 years, the most recent influx from South Sudan having started in December 2013. The camp has grown into four sub-sections with a capacity of 125,000 persons but a current population of over 155,000. Like in the majority of protracted situations, the care and maintenance programs in Kakuma included providing them with access to shelter, food, water, health care and education.
Kakuma refugee camp, in northwestern Kenya’s Turkana County, houses over 150,000 refugees. The majority are South Sudanese followed by Somalis. Established in 1992 in one of Kenya’s most remote areas, it is one of the longest-lasting refugee camps in the world, and refugees have become an integral part of the area’s social, cultural, and economic fabric.
From addressing the forced displacement crisis to helping indigenous communities, and from implementing the “New Urban Agenda” to enhancing resilience to disasters and climate change, one thing is clear: we must step up efforts to build and grow economies and communities that are inclusive, resilient, and sustainable for all—especially for the poor and vulnerable.
In the timeline below, revisit some of the stories on sustainable development that resonated the most with you last year, and leave a comment to let us know what you wish to see more of in our “Sustainable Communities” blog series in 2017.
Armed conflict and violence disrupt social support structures and exposes civilian populations to high levels of stress. The 2015 Global Burden of Disease study found a positive association between conflict and depression and anxiety disorders. While most of those exposed to emergencies suffer some form of psychological distress, accumulated evidence shows that 15-20% of crisis-affected populations develop mild-to moderate mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). And, 3-4% develop severe mental disorders, such as psychosis or debilitating depression and anxiety, which affect their ability to function and survive. If not effectively addressed, the long-term mental health and psychosocial well-being of the exposed population may be affected.
The plight of forcibly displaced people, who are fleeing conflict and violence, is best summed up by the lyrics of the plaintive 1970 classic by Argentine troubadour Facundo Cabral: "No soy de aquí ni soy de allá"("I'm not from here nor there").
Those lyrics convey both the sense of uprootedness felt by those displaced from their native lands and habitual routines, and the feeling of “otherness,” emotional detachment, and powerlessness when relocated to foreign surroundings and societies, which in some cases, are unwelcoming to outsiders.
Communities hosting refugees, more often than not, inhabit marginal areas which are characterized as underdeveloped, underserved, and environmentally fragile. In these areas, basic social services and economic infrastructures are either absent altogether or poorly developed. The dependence for fuel wood, construction timber, grazing and water (for both humans and animals) on already degraded natural resources by a significant population, both hosts and refugees in protracted displacement, often contributes to rapid environmental degradation thereby worsening the situation. In addition, with many of these areas being fragile and vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, protracted displacement further exacerbates the situation.
In preparing the Development Response to Displacement Impacts Project (DRDIP) in the Horn of Africa, which supports Ethiopia, Uganda and Djibouti, consultations with local representatives brought out the critical need to help host communities cope and build resilience. An important challenge posed was how to develop activities that improve the productivity of both traditional and non-traditional livelihoods, including through diversification and income generation in these difficult locales.
While the team explored options for support, we were confronted with some realities. These included: (i) a high dependence on traditional and low productivity livelihoods, including agriculture, agro-pastoralism, and pastoralism; (ii) degraded natural resources base due to greater susceptibility to climate related events especially flash floods and droughts; (iii) lack of or limited access to basic social services and economic infrastructure, including rural finance and market infrastructure; (iv) inadequate presence and/or limited capacity of the public sector; and (v) near absence of and/or non-vibrant private sector.
Based on experience with supporting traditional livelihoods and livelihood diversification in a range of settings, including fragile and conflict affected contexts, the team and partners in Ethiopia, Uganda and Djibouti arrived at the following key considerations to promote livelihoods:
Ensuring a focus on women and youth for livelihoods support given they are among the most vulnerable both among host and refugee communities.
Putting in place an inclusive and participatory planning process for livelihoods promotion and diversification is necessary to ensure community ownership.
Establishing and/or strengthening community institutions focused on livelihoods is critical not only for training, capacity building, and livelihoods development; but also for promoting social cohesion and peace building between host and refugee communities thus creating an enabling environment for livelihoods promotion.
Appreciating and mobilizing individual and community talents, skills and assets could serve to be a good starting point for supporting livelihoods in target communities, although designing livelihood programs and promoting livelihoods diversification requires careful assessment.
Understanding existing streams of livelihoods and livelihood diversification options is essential to better explore (i) existing traditional forms of livelihoods - stabilizing, expanding, and making them productive and sustainable; (ii) alternative forms of livelihoods (livelihoods diversification), including self-employment - micro-enterprise development, targeting micro-entrepreneurs; (iii) skilled wage employment - opportunities for youth and women in growing sectors of the economy; and (iv) technical, behavioral, and market-performance assessment for determining viable options.
Access to finance should look at savings and credit groups and their saving mobilization and internal lending activities alongside the formal and non-formal financial institutions within and outside the target communities.
Collectives of producers would need to be built on small scale livelihoods undertaken by individuals, community groups or institutions. The aggregation and/or upscaling will require access to larger markets, infrastructure for storage, transport facilities and appropriate technology for value addition and value chains; and importantly partnerships with the private sector.
Leveraging on initiatives that are existing, innovative and working in target communities and then adding value, including scaling up is more helpful. Given the challenging circumstances, transplanting models from more stable and developed environments may have limited chances of taking root.
Capacities and strengths of implementing agencies, local governments and communities should determine the scope and scale of livelihood activities while also paying attention to addressing the skills deficit and building sustainable capacity for planning, implementation and management of livelihood programs at all levels.
Phasing and sequencing of livelihood interventions will help manage the trade-off of a short-term versus a long-term planning horizon innovatively. Piloting and scaling up based on experience is a useful strategy to pursue.
Linkages and partnerships for greater impact need to be actively explored and established. Regular coordination meetings help encourage collaboration and partnerships, and provide feedback on implementation, share key learning and discuss challenges.