A Gravity Model Analysis of Forced Displacement in Colombia

Juan Francisco Saldarriaga and Yuan Hua

Cities, Volume 95, 2019



This article analyzes flows of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Colombia between 1986 and 2015 to identify some of the main factors associated with IDPs’ choice of destination. The authors make use of gravity models to examine the correlation between an IDP’s path and the characteristics of the origin and destination municipalities. Besides the classical gravity model variables, such as population and distance, the authors consider: intensity of violence at origin and destination municipalities/regions; the level of community participation at origin and destination; and the extent of the social network at destination. The analysis is based on municipal-level data from the Registro Único de Víctimas, the official database of victims of the Colombian conflict for the period 1986-2016, as well as population estimates and data on community participation from the Colombian National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE).

Key findings:

  • Intensity of violence at the origin municipality appears to be the most important driver of forced displacement.
  • Distance between origin and destination, and population size at the destination, are statistically correlated to the number of IDPs arriving in a municipality.
  • The number of previously displaced people from the same origin at the destination municipality is the strongest predictor of displacement volume. This suggests a much stronger link between social networks of victims and their choice of destination.

The authors recommend that forced displacement be treated as a regional-level phenomenon and planners, city officials, and aid organizations should focus their attention on medium-sized regional centers. Given the importance of social networks in driving IDPs’ choice of destination, the authors propose that city officials, planners and aid organizations should closely collaborate with grassroots community organizations to allocate resources and plan for new arrivals.