Advancing understanding of disaster displacement in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa

Through extensive stakeholder engagement, data collection and analysis, IIED contributed to the understanding of what makes people vulnerable to displacement because of climate change in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa, and what mechanisms can help them to cope with that displacement.

May 2021 - November 2021
Sam Barrett

Researcher (climate adaptation), Climate Change

Climate-resilient development
A programme of work showing how IIED is supporting governments, civil society and communities to achieve climate-resilient development outcomes for the most vulnerable people
A view of a large camp in a desert landscape.

Kobe refugee camp in Ethiopia (Photo: UNICEF Ethiopia via FlickrCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In 2019, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) published guidelines on how to reduce risks arising from displacement caused by climate change, address the impacts of displacement, and implement mechanisms for strengthening people’s resilience.

The guidelines emphasised the importance of understanding the different dimensions of vulnerability and its dynamic nature through collecting and analysing data as part of any risk assessment exercise.

Following the guidelines’ publication, UNDRR consulted with organisations and people involved in disaster risk reduction and through that consultation, heard that it was important that the guidelines should outline how to integrate robust and locally-specific data on exposure, vulnerability, resilience, capacity and coping strategies into risk assessments.

By doing this, disaster risk reduction investments would more likely be effective and target the most vulnerable people and places in timely and appropriate ways.

What did IIED do?

IIED worked with UNDRR to respond to this observation. The first task was to conduct a needs assessment of disaster displacement stakeholders in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa (such as the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OVCA) and the National Disaster Risk Management Commission (NDRMC) in Ethiopia), to understand what tools, approaches and data might support their work.

This involved interviewing more than 10 organisations working in the Horn of Africa.

That work was followed by a review of good practice in the Horn of Africa and other countries around the world, looking particularly at how the many dimensions of vulnerability could be included in a disaster displacement assessment.

The aim was to collect examples of good practice to provide a resource for institutions involved in disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and displacement/migration planning in Ethiopia and for governments across Eastern Africa.

The resulting good practice review was informed by the IIED team’s review of over 50 tools, methods, approaches and reports and by engagement with around 40 key stakeholders researching and operating in displacement risk management and displacement risk assessment.

The research found that most displacement risk assessment methodologies only predict the number of people likely to be displaced due to a particular type of extreme weather event. None of the approaches reviewed either integrated or generated robust data on the ways different types of people may be more or less vulnerable, or resilient, to climate shocks.

This highlighted a serious gap, not only in the understanding of disaster displacement risks and how people most vulnerable to these risks are affected, but also in the data available to inform the design and delivery of interventions to save lives, protect livelihoods and reduce disaster displacement risks in the face of escalating climate shocks.

The insights IIED collected shaped the recommendations of the good practice review, published in December 2021.


This work was funded by UNDRR with financial support from the government of Italy