Expert Opinion

The elephant in the room: as governments gathered in New York to discuss progress towards sustainable development, many omitted internal displacement


Over the last two weeks, governments of the world met at the United Nations in New York to present the progress they have made towards achieving sustainable development for all. The High Level Political Forum is the occasion for countries to publish, on a voluntary basis, national reports on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) they adopted in 2015. 108 Voluntary National Reviews have now been issued, including 45 new submissions in 2018.

In January of this year, the United Nations released updated guidelines for the preparation of Voluntary National Reviews. This new version includes one significant reminder: a criteria that was included in the 2030 Agenda, but not in the previous version of the guidelines. It is the need to focus on the poorest, most vulnerable and furthest behind – characteristics that often apply to internally displaced persons. In 2018, one third of the Voluntary National Reviews mention internally displaced persons, compared to 19% in 2017 and 23% in 2016. Continued advocacy for monitoring internal displacement in development initiatives, and practical solutions for data collection and analysis at country level, should increase these figures further.

Yet internal displacement remains largely under-reported in the Voluntary National Reviews. Out of the top 15 countries in terms of new conflict displacements, only 9 submitted reviews and 5 (Afghanistan, Colombia, El Salvador, Niger and Nigeria) mentioned internal displacement. For disasters, 9 out of the top 15 countries in terms of new displacements submitted a review and only two (Japan and Sri Lanka) refer to internal displacement.

Several SDG targets and indicators are clearly linked to internal displacement. Target 10.7 aims to facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people. Target 17.18 encourages the production of data disaggregated by migratory status. One of the 232 indicators records to the number of people affected by disasters, including those displaced by an event. Depending on national context and governments’ priorities, the issue can be covered under different goals. 

Afghanistan highlights the issue as an impediment to economic growth and poverty reduction (SDG 1). Azerbaijan monitors internal displacement under SDGs 1 and 5 (gender equality. Nigeria recognizes conflict-induced displacement as a major obstacle to the achievement of the SDGs and discusses it under SDG 16 “Promotion of Peaceful and Inclusive Societies for Sustainable Development”, but also under SDG 4 on education and SDG 17 on the global partnership for sustainable development.

This variety shows that possibilities exist for all countries affected by internal displacement to incorporate specific efforts in their national development strategies and SDG monitoring frameworks. When they have not, it may be due to the assumption that internal displacement is a humanitarian, not a development issue. It may also be due to the unwillingness to recognize the phenomenon or dedicate resources to it. 

As IDMC has repeatedly highlighted, internal displacement impacts all 17 SDGs, and advancement towards the SDGs can help reduce internal displacement and its negative consequences. Including internal displacement in SDG-related monitoring processes is essential for countries that are highly affected by the phenomenon. As data collection to monitor the SDGs takes up nearly all the statistical resources in high and low-income countries alike, overlooking internal displacement in SDG monitoring could mean that the issue remains statistically invisible until 2030. A negligence that cannot be afforded when the number of internally displaced persons remains at an all-time high.

Monitoring internal displacement is essential for several reasons. One of them is to draw the attention of the public, policy makers, development stakeholders and investors on the phenomenon, by highlighting its scale and severity. Another is to inform development and humanitarian actors so that they can tailor their interventions more efficiently. Lastly, monitoring internal displacement should help ensure national governments’ accountability by presenting them, their population and the international community with the results of their actions, or lack thereof.


Sustainable Development Goals wheel
Sustainable Development Goals wheel