By Peter De Clercq, UNDP Senior Advisor on internal displacement and former Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia, 2015 – 2019  and Professor Laura Hammond, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London


Somalia was once a country synonymous with civil war, seemingly stuck with the moniker of a failed state. In recent years however, and with little fanfare, humanitarian, peace and development organizations have worked together with government, civil society and community groups to create a favourable environment for progress. The economy is starting to show some real growth. Decent housing and electricity supply are becoming available. Planned constitutional reform and power-sharing arrangements offer a chance of long-term stability.

However, the country still houses an estimated 2.6 million people displaced from their homes by years of conflict and environmental catastrophes – many of whom remain vulnerable to extreme poverty. In this environment, building inclusive government structures has been key. With other UN agencies and civil society organizations, UNDP helped create a Durable Solutions Unit in the Resident Coordinator’s Office, operating across different ministries to provide services, create job opportunities and develop housing laws. Successes were built around local governance initiatives, bringing together local authorities, displaced and host communities. For example, displaced people were trained in renewable energy technology and have since gone on to install solar panels in multiple state schools and hospitals. By cutting fuel costs for the hospitals, they have been able to invest in COVID-19 prevention and treatment.

The country still has a long way to go however. Last year, thousands of farmers were forced to move when locusts destroyed crops, while floods uprooted nearly a million people. Despite the setbacks, Somalia offers important lessons in how the international community supports fragile states.

“When a country reels from crisis to crisis, it’s not a series of emergencies — it’s the status quo,” says Jocelyn Mason, UNDP Somalia’s Resident Representative. “And so what is required in response are not just emergency measures, but a sustained programme of development assistance to build the systems, skills, infrastructure and institutions needed to withstand future disasters.”


On 4th December 2019, Aden Hashi Hassan pours tea in his teashop in Hargeisa, Somaliland. Aden’s teashop received a solar panel as part of a joint UNDP and Somaliland Ministry of Environment pilot project to offer alternative and sustainable energy sources across the region. The project aims to encourage business owners to use less charcoal by using solar energy to heat water. In addition to the solar panels, UNDP helped produce 14,000 Somaliland-made energy efficient cook stoves in 2018 which decreases the use of charcoal by up to 50%.
According to Aden, “I used to spend $17 for one bag of charcoal and used to use three bags of charcoal daily. Since I got the solar heater, I use less charcoal which has benefited us greatly”. Charcoal is known to have severe social, health and environmental implications. In Somalia, the 2015 Forest and Wildlife Act provides for a 100% tax exemption for alternative energy including solar.
(Photo: UNDP Somalia/Mark Naftalin)

Taking local lessons global

The world faces a growing global crisis as more people are being uprooted. The number of people displaced by conflict, violence, climate change, or extreme weather events has doubled over the last 25 years to 55 million and the length of time they spend separated from their homes has lengthened to on average of 17 years. Providing basic services and covering loss of income for internal displacement cost the world more than $20 billion in 2020, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.  Women and girls, who make up the vast majority of the internally displaced, face greater challenges in staying safe, finding work, accessing education and healthcare.

Internally displaced people are among the most vulnerable in the world. They face the same challenges as refugees in finding protection, shelter, access to education, healthcare, and employment and the same exposure to discrimination and the possibility of exploitation. However, while refugees receive some protection under international law, internally displaced people remain the responsibility – and subject to the laws – of their own government. Whereas states may be part of the reason why someone fled, they remain ultimately accountable to their population to find solutions.

UNDP works to prevent forced displacement, enhance both the resilience of people on the move and their host communities. In Syria for example, UNDP has helped restore livelihoods, essential services and fostered social cohesion for 3.6 million people. In Iraq, we helped 4.8 million displaced people to return home in recent years.

2020 saw record numbers of people around the world displaced by conflict and violence. To help address this, the UN Secretary General launched a High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement in February 2020. UNDP has been working with the Panel, providing recommendations on how to strengthen countries and the UN system. Its submissions include commissioning the research paper, Towards Development Solutions to Internal Displacement: A Political Economy Approach, by the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Drawing evidence from Bangladesh, El Salvador, Iraq and Sudan, the paper considers how vested interests play a role in determining why forced displacement happens, who is displaced and what the potential solutions could be.

With the High-Level Panel, UNDP is looking to expand development solutions for people forced from their homes and strengthen host communities who are under pressure to absorb newcomers, expand services, create jobs and manage tensions. Central to the approach is the promotion of full national ownership and the systematic, early and predictable engagement of national and international development actors. This includes improved collaboration between humanitarian and development workers and peace activists. By advancing inclusion in government planning, strengthening the rule of law, ensuring socio-economic integration, improving social cohesion and meeting the specific needs of women and girls, internally displaced people can be part of critical progress on poverty, education and gender equality.