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As cities adapt for climate resilience, don’t forget the internally displaced

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Geneva, 29 October 2021 -- As the world moves towards World Cities Day 2021, the plight of internally displaced persons (IDPs) cannot be left unaddressed, many of whom are living in urban areas including cities, towns and slums.

This year’s theme for World Cities Day is Adapting Cities for Climate Resilience, reflecting how climate change will impact city residents, including IDPs, experiencing floods, rising sea levels, storms and increasing periods of extreme temperatures.

Last month, the High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement submitted its report to the UN Secretary-General advocating for solutions for the 55 million people who have been forced to flee their homes but remained within their countries. Whether the drivers are related to conflicts, violence, disasters or the impacts of climate change, in many cases, the front-line responders of this crisis are city authorities and municipality officials.

Throughout its process, and with the support of UN-Habitat, the Joint IDP Profiling Service (JIPS) and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), the Panel spoke with mayors, regional and local authorities in Burkina Faso, Colombia, Iraq, Ukraine, Somalia and Honduras. Across different regions, one collective message stood out: the need to address internal displacement as part of urban development plans.

“The reality of growing urban internal displacement requires all actors to change their approaches to response,” said the report. “Cities should not be seen as only the backdrop where displacement occurs but as a rich ecosystem that can contribute to the resolution of displacement.”

At the heart of “tak[ing] responsibility” is that for too long, IDPs have been viewed as a transient community that –hopefully- would go back to where they came from, and the problem would be resolved, thanks to emergency and temporary humanitarian aid.

Reality, on the other hand, has shown that a significant proportion of displaced persons already reside in urban areas, and this will continue to rise in conjunction with global urbanisation trends.

“We are witnessing internal displacement linked to phenomenal urbanisation,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the official handover of the report, urging governments to address IDPs settlements beyond as a “temporary phenomenon”.

United Nations estimates say 68 per cent of the world population will live in urban areas by 2050. Much of this ongoing urbanisation will occur in developing countries, with urban populations in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa growing to 3.5 billion and 1.3 billion, respectively.

Whereas many IDPs flee to urban areas in search of safety, more often than not, they constitute the poorest of the poor, lack secure housing and are exposed to a wide range of health, social and economic risks. UN agencies such as UN-Habitat have implemented programmes to upgrade slums but uncounted number of residents of informal settlements around the world still need help.

Many IDPs live in slums next to rivers or floodplains, which are at risk of flooding and mudslides without the necessary infrastructure. In time of global challenges such as COVID-19 that make already-limited resources even more scarce, IDPs often end up paying a higher price.

The Panel, which spent 18 months consulting with stakeholders including over 12,500 IDPs and host community members across 22 countries, recommends that local authorities view IDPs as potentially long-term additions to their population. This means having better integration mechanisms in which IDPs are not left out of urban and spatial planning including on disaster management, disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.

The Panel also notes that cities should invest in building resiliency and dramatically scale up funding for displacement-sensitive climate adaptation interventions. Meanwhile, donors should provide funding as locally as possible. This includes directing resources to local authorities, local NGOs and local civil society actors. Donors can learn from the pilot initiatives currently under way by UN-Habitat, the Mayors Migration Council and others to provide long-term funding directly to municipalities to address human mobility.

But it warned that without significant improvements to solutions, prevention and humanitarian response, “this global crisis will never be truly resolved.”

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To read the report of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement, click here.