New numbers released by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) show a troubling increase in the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) around the world. Today, 28.8 million people are displaced within their home countries due to conflict and violence—the highest number ever recorded by the IDMC.  This is due in large part to the conflicts in Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). More than 6.5 million of these people were newly displaced in 2012, almost twice as many as the year before.  In addition, natural disasters displaced 32.4 million people around the world over the course of 2012.

This jump in global IDP numbers is sobering and shows the extent to which internal displacement is a significant factor in all the crises that USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) responds to—from Syria to DRC, from the Sahel to Pakistan.

IDPs are a particularly vulnerable population, having been forced to flee their homes and enduring physical and emotional trauma before or during their flight. However, because IDPs don’t cross international borders they are not considered refugees and therefore do not receive the same protection provided to refugees by international law.

Two displaced Kenyan children receive USAID assistance

Two internally displaced children in Kenya receive USAID assistance to rebuild their home. Photo Credit: Anita Malley/USAID


A good humanitarian response to internal displacement requires careful analysis and a nuanced approach to assistance, which is why USAID/OFDA supports organizations—like IDMC—that monitor and analyze the causes, effects and responses to internal displacement. The Office simultaneously continues to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of IDPs through providing food, clean water, shelter, health care, and protection services.

Responding to internal displacement situations always has its challenges. Some IDP populations have been displaced not once, but twice or even multiple times as is the case in eastern DRC. To address this type of displacement, USAID/OFDA supports rapid response mechanisms that swiftly identify and assess new displacements in order to provide urgent assistance while avoiding creating dependency.  Humanitarian access can also be extremely limited, such as in Syria, making it difficult to assess IDP needs and provide assistance.

USAID is revising its IDP policy to advance the U.S. Government’s response to internal displacement and to reflect current best practices for IDP assistance. Displacement doesn’t necessarily end once a crisis is over, and this policy also further strengthens USAID’s commitment to help IDPs either return home and reintegrate or resettle in other parts of the country. The goal of this policy is to find durable solutions to ensure that when it comes to the number of IDPs, the global community doesn’t hit another all-time high.