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OPINIONDecember 18, 2023

Data-Driven Policies Are Critical to Improve the Lives of People Impacted by Forced Displacement

Currently around the world, more than 100 million people are forcibly displaced, either within or outside their country of origin. And this number is rising. With the majority of forcibly displaced people hosted today in developing countries, and the average duration of displacement about 10 to 15 years, the complex challenge of forced displacement requires both humanitarian and development policy responses.

From a development perspective, governments need comprehensive and timely data on the issues faced by both forcibly displaced populations and their host communities. However, for many developing countries without adequate systems in place, collecting this data remains a challenge.

As such, the World Bank is supporting innovative ways to include displaced populations in key household surveys in several low- and middle-income countries, often in collaboration with national statistical offices and other development partners.

For example, the Central African Republic Institute for Statistics, Economic and Social Studies conducted a national budget survey in 2021, its first in more than a decade. They were able to include data on internally displaced persons, thanks to strong collaboration with the World Bank, the Joint Data Center on Forced Displacement and the UNHCR.

The household data collected in the Central African Republic was critical to informing the policy recommendations in our latest Poverty Assessment of the country, one of the poorest in the world. The integration of data from households in camps for internally displaced people helped provide a more complete picture of living conditions across the country, where internally displaced people comprised almost one-tenth of the total population in 2022.

Continued efforts to collect and analyze such data can help design effective social and economic policies to improve the lives of people across the Central African Republic, including those impacted by internal displacement.

To inform development policy responses to forced displacement, countries also need systematic data collection across a broad range of indicators. It is important to go beyond just measuring outcomes, such as monetary poverty or access to basic needs, and capture the underlying factors that limit the ability of displaced people to increase their productive capacity and access opportunities.

The World Bank recently invested in a harmonized dataset on displaced and host populations, which encompasses surveys from 10 low-income countries hosting forcibly displaced populations during the period 2015–2020. This exercise provided a comprehensive and comparable view of forced displacement across different displacement settings.

We gained several important insights from the data harmonization effort. First and foremost, we see that displaced households are consistently more deprived than host communities in almost every aspect, including ownership of households and assets, access to the labor market, and children’s educational outcomes.

Moreover, by combining the harmonized data with information on legal frameworks, we generally see better employment outcomes in host countries where the legal policy governing displaced populations is more liberal, and where displaced people are allowed to work.

The data also shows that poverty rates and aid dependency among refugees decrease over time in countries with more progressive economic and social integration. Similarly, in host countries where educational policies are more liberal, displaced children are more likely to attend school and be able to read and write.

Important insights are also highlighted by a comprehensive analysis of how forcibly displaced populations fared during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Drawing from data collected through some 125,000 interviews via high-frequency phone surveys across 14 countries during 2020-21, we learn that forcibly displaced people typically fared worse than their host populations in key areas such as employment, income, food security, and education and learning.

These findings reinforce the need for more inclusive policies, including greater access to education and the labor market, that can support displaced people in building their productive capacity and resilience. Such policies can also reduce the financial burden on host countries and their reliance on humanitarian assistance.

Looking ahead, we must work to expand these efforts and strengthen the data infrastructure for understanding the welfare of forcibly displaced persons, which remains in its early stages, especially in low-income countries.

This can help countries build up the evidence on the efficacy of integration policies, helping development partners and humanitarian agencies design policies that support long-term development responses in countries affected by protracted population displacement.

Working closely with governments and partners to leverage innovative approaches to collect, harmonize, and analyze representative data, we can advance the policy agenda to improve the lives of forcibly displaced people and their host communities.


Luis Felipe López-Calva is the World Bank's Global Director for Poverty and Equity.


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