Updated on June 18, 2015, at 10 a.m.
War reporting tends to capture the devastation of buildings and the casualties of battle, but it’s harder to visualize the effect of conflict on those who aren’t killed or enlisted to fight. Even sweeping vistas of tent cities set up at dusty border crossings don’t seem to convey the scale of destruction.
Numbers can go a long way toward filling that gap. For example: According to annual figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, released on Thursday, in 2014 there were almost 60 million refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) around the globe right now. Put another way, that’s one in every 122 people worldwide. Put yet another way, that’s roughly the equivalent of the entire population of Italy being pushed out of their homes.
Not since World War II have there been so many refugees or IDPs. (Finding definitive numbers is tough, but the UN reports that the number of refugees and IDPs last exceeded 50 million during the Second World War, an astonishing figure given that the global population was significantly smaller then.) The annual Global Peace Index, released on Wednesday and based on the number of refugees and IDPs recorded through the end of 2013, offers some more detail about how the number got so high. Most of the growth in that period was actually not from refugees—that number had grown a comparatively scant 23 percent between 2004 and 2013—but among IDPs, or those uprooted within their home country, whose ranks had swelled by more than 300 percent since in that time.