Across the globe, people are being forcibly displaced from their homes on a massive scale. There are an estimated 68.5 million displaced people worldwide, including 40 million internally displaced people (IDPs), 25.4 million refugees, and 3.1 million asylum seekers. These groups are compelled to flee conflict, violence, and natural or human-made disasters in order to reach safe places where they can support themselves and their families.
Most people are displaced not as the result of just one factor, but because of a combination of factors, with hunger often figuring prominently in their experience. Hunger is a persistent danger that threatens the lives of large numbers of forcibly displaced people and influences their decisions about when and where to move.
During periods of conflict, hunger may be both a cause and a consequence of forced migration. People affected by conflict experience it not only as a threat to their lives but as an assault on their livelihoods that can undermine their ability to provide for their most basic needs, including food.
Conflict can restrict people’s movement and their access to markets, farmland, and jobs. If they cannot produce the food they need to survive or earn an income to purchase that food, their nutritional well-being is compromised. Some people do indeed manage to flee to safety with the bulk of their savings or assets intact and so do not face the immediate threat of hunger before they are displaced. Others are not as fortunate: by the time they move, they have lost everything. Still others are displaced multiple times, with each move further eroding their resilience, livelihood, and food security.
Predicting when people are likely to be displaced is an inexact science; some clues may be found by analyzing past displacements within the same population. However, levels of risk and violence and perceptions of the opportunities or resources that may be available at the intended destinations may lead to very different decision-making pathways among individuals and households, even within the same population.
HUNGER AND DISPLACEMENT should be recognized and dealt with as political problems. Support is needed for policies designed to prevent conflict and build peace at all levels, as well as for policies that reinforce government accountability and transparency, which make it more difficult for governments to shirk their duty to meet citizens’ basic needs for safety and food security.
HUMANITARIAN ACTION ALONE is an insufficient response to forced migration, and more holistic approaches involving development support are needed. A more holistic approach would also offer benefits to the communities that host displaced people. Displacement can bring food insecurity to host populations, who share what they have with their displaced relatives and neighbors. In some cases, the hosts themselves are former displaced persons who may become unable to continue hosting or may even themselves be displaced again when they run out of resources to share, leading to “overlapping displacements”. Solving such issues needs holistic approach.
FOOD-INSECURE displaced people should be supported in their regions of origin. People affected by food insecurity typically move to the nearest city or across an international border to the closest refugee camp or market center, because they often cannot afford to go any further.
THE PROVISION OF SUPPORT should be based on the resilience of the displaced people themselves, which is never entirely absent. Policies designed to assist refugees and IDPs should build on their resilience, but in fact such policies often work to undermine the resilience of displaced people. They may be legally prohibited from moving through the country, owning property, or working legally. In Kenya, for instance, Somali refugees are subject to all of these restrictions. This limits the ability of displaced people to gain access to food that is adequate in quantity and quality.