People's Stories Wellbeing

Humanitarians, scientists, and the battle against climate change
by Red Cross, WFP, New Humanitarian, agencies
Jan. 2020
World Food Programme: Global Hotspots 2020 - Countries at risk of sliding further into crisis
A new decade may have dawned but there is little cause for fresh optimism in countries and regions where conflict, political instability and climate disasters are threatening the food security of millions of people.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has identified 15 critical and complex emergencies at risk of descending further into crisis without a rapid response and greater investment.
While WFP continues to provide extensive assistance to high-profile emergencies such as Yemen and Syria, Global Hotspots 2020 highlights the fastest-deteriorating emergencies requiring the world’s urgent attention.
Sub-Saharan Africa dominates WFP’s analysis, with Zimbabwe, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central Sahel region all needing immediate attention, given the urgent needs of children, women and men.
Elsewhere, Global Hotspots 2020 reports how a rapidly evolving political and social crisis in Haiti is raising alarm, while Afghanistan continues to face insecurity combined with drought, leaving millions of people uncertain of where their next meal will come from.
WFP is the frontline agency responding to emergencies and strengthening people’s preparedness and ability to cope in the face of crises. The largest humanitarian agency working to both save and change lives, WFP is primed 24/7 to step up support wherever needed, given sufficient funding and access.
However, the agency estimates it will require more than US$10 billion to fully fund all of its operations in more than 80 countries around the world in 2020.
Here is a breakdown of the countries WFP considers most at risk of sliding further into crisis in the coming year:
Dec. 2019
Humanitarians, scientists, and the battle against climate change
In a year when wildfires raged from Australia to the Amazon, floods ravaged urban centres, and 45 million people faced severe food shortages in southern Africa alone, the urgency of addressing displacement and other emergencies linked to or made worse by climate change was increasingly acknowledged across both the humanitarian and scientific sectors.
So what if professionals from the two communities ignored the silos that traditionally keep them in parallel worlds and came together to discuss common concerns – everything from funding gaps to how to communicate amid a babel of alphabet-soup jargon?
As Patricia Espinosa of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) told just such a gathering, they would realise that dealing with the impacts of climate change “is about addressing human suffering and promoting well-being”.
Espinosa was one of seven panelists and two moderators who met via a live-streamed event on the sidelines of both the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in Geneva, and the UN Climate Change Conference, COP 25, in Madrid.
The rare forum “demonstrates how much we are all realising that we must all work together”, Espinosa said. Addressing the impacts of climate change, bearing its costs, and building greater awareness among the general public is, she said, “a collective responsibility”.
Cooperation could take the form of more regularly and systematically using science to inform humanitarian efforts, or it could include drawing on aid workers’ on-the-ground experiences to feed into the policy work on international climate change negotiations, participants suggested.
Yet humanitarians must push to address the impacts of climate change in ways that reflect the urgency of the situation.
As several speakers noted, adaptation efforts – lowering the risk of climate change impacts through preparatory measures – do not carry enough importance within humanitarian response frameworks, which continue to be tied to delivering aid after disasters happen.
Maarten van Aalst, director of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre and a moderator of the event, said the work of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was akin to the bible for climate scientists, but that the humanitarian world “does not have a bible like that”.
With nearly 14 million volunteers affiliated across some 190 national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, the movement is on the front line of disaster response and serves many of the communities now experiencing the impacts of climate change. Climate-linked disasters already force millions from their homes each year.
Elhadj As Sy, secretary general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said his organisation’s volunteers work with communities facing threats from droughts, to floods, to the increasing scarcity of land and water. “The shocks and hazards are multiplying, more frequent, more severe,” he said.
“We do not need to wait to see floods, cyclical droughts, and dramatic fires,” he cautioned. If we do, “it will become too late for too many.”
As the UN’s recently released annual overview of world humanitarian needs stated: “Climate change is increasing people’s vulnerability to humanitarian crises. The world’s eight worst food crises are all linked to both conflict and climate shocks.”
While speakers emphasised that action and collaboration are needed now, especially in regions where people are doubly threatened by conflict- and climate-induced events, they stressed that no single institution can handle the work on its own; partnerships within and outside the sector are key.
So, they stressed, is a longer-term view that allows for investments in local responders and local organisations as well as early warning and preparedness practices – all of which can improve disaster response and prevent loss of life.
If humanitarians and scientists are going to work together, though, it would help if they speak the same language. As one audience member noted, phrases such as “loss and damage’’ – climate-world speak for “humanitarian implications” – can be confounding to outsiders.
Not only do climate and humanitarian professionals speak different dialects of jargon, but the public may understand neither.
“The question of language is very important,” Espinosa of the UNFCCC agreed. “The terminology used in multilateral UN processes is not accessible for the common citizen on the street.”
Here are some of the key topics discussed during the session.
Nearly 168 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance in 2019 because of conflicts and extreme climate events, Regina Gujan of the Swiss Agency for Development noted, citing the UN’s annual overview. Requested funding was nearly $29 billion, yet donors had provided $16 billion for inter-agency appeals. “The needs are big and increasing, and the funding is not enough,” Gujan said.
In a report earlier this year, “The Cost of Doing Nothing”, the IFRC stated that if action is not taken now, the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance annually due to the impacts of climate change could double by 2050. Furthermore, financial costs for relieving climate disasters could balloon to $20 billion per year by 2030.
Environmental degradation and climate change affect humanitarian challenges, Gujan added, cautioning that climate change adaptation is not yet prioritised enough in humanitarian work. “There is a lot of focus on delivering aid after disasters,” she said. “We are not doing enough to anticipate disasters. If we work on prevention and work early – we can reduce the impact of natural hazards and save lives.”
Patricia Danzi, ICRC''s regional director for Africa, appealed to negotiators in Madrid who were addressing climate change. “Whatever you do, whatever you negotiate, it will always take time for impact to show,” she said. “So, in the meantime, the millions of volunteers – humanitarian actors – will have to fill in.”
Tap local expertise: ‘If you see it, you know it; if you live it, you know it.’
IFRC’s As Sy suggested that the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies can use their permanent presence before, during, and after climate-induced shocks to mitigate risks, alert communities to those risks, and act early to respond. He said there is a need to invest in communities to build local capacities and resilience.
Young people are especially important to building the ability of local communities to withstand the impacts of climate change, he noted. Furthermore, locally available knowledge is often not recognised or acknowledged, he said, noting that farmers have accumulated knowledge and often do their bit to adapt: “If you see it, you know it; if you live it, you know it.”
“The impact of climate change is real and it challenges the adaptive capacity of society and ecosystems,” IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee told the gathering, calling for immediate action to reduce greenhouse gases.
“I want to particularly highlight food security that will be threatened as a result of worsening climate and also increased competition for land, because the land will be used as a mitigation tool for the rest of the century if we fail to take immediate reductions of greenhouse gases,” he said.
“If we fail to take immediate reductions, the world will face increased risks of the loss of biodiversity, increased damage from the ecosystems such that humanity as a whole will suffer from reduced ecosystem services.”
Such action includes investing in new technology and innovations that would bring higher productivity for energy use, as well as laying the foundations for a no-waste or low-waste circular economy.
“Investment for early action will have a powerful spillover effect, impacting other sectors of the economy, improving overall efficiency across human livelihoods,” Lee explained.
Taking immediate action means assuming new costs now, he said, adding, “when we take a somewhat longer view of the investment aspect of taking action, it is very clear that this investment option will give us a great opportunity to make this world cleaner, healthier, and more resilient.”
ICRC''s Danzi reminded the gathering about the double threats many communities face as they deal with not only climate events – such as floods and droughts – but also years of conflicts – including communities in Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Sahel region, Somalia, and South Sudan.
“Resilience goes down, safety nets don’t exist,” she said. “What also does not exist, very often, is the presence of the state. Vulnerability goes up, so does fragility, exacerbated by demographic pressure.”
As more people – and their cattle – compete for less fertile land with less safe access, the likelihood of conflict and violence rises, she told the audience.
As a result, populations are displaced as they flee droughts, floods, and conflicts for urban centres where they frequently live in areas that are unsafe and unhealthy, prone to flooding, or next to garbage dumps. These communities often must take up unsafe practices such as burning wood for charcoal, and as a result contribute to worsening the impact on climate.
Danzi appealed to climate experts: “I can only ask you, please keep negotiating, keep innovating and keep making progress. And always zoom in, look for fertile grounds in terms of your investments, look at the most fragile countries, but then zoom in further. You have to find the most vulnerable in these communities, because these are the ones that will be the most exposed to the risks of climate and violence.”
DEc. 2019
Climate change and empowering women top aid agencies 2020 to-do list, reports the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
We asked 10 organisations which two key issues they would focus on in the coming year
CARE INTERNATIONAL - Natasha Lewis, senior advocacy & policy advisor
We''ll work with communities to address the climate crisis, as it''s the biggest challenge facing us today. We''ll focus on supporting women in particular, as they''re often responsible for farming their fields, collecting water and feeding families – meaning they''re increasingly affected by more extreme droughts or floods.
We''ll champion the crucial role women play as first responders in humanitarian emergencies. We''ll advocate alongside local women''s rights organisations, so they are heard by decision-makers at a global level.
U.N. WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME - Corinne Woods, director of communications
Work with our partners to help those caught up in conflict and struggling on the frontlines of the climate crisis – war and climate shocks now account for the world''s eight worst food crises.
Build a global coalition promoting initiatives such as school feeding so as to unleash the full potential of 73 million vulnerable children in 60 countries by 2030. It''s estimated every dollar invested in school feeding brings a $3-10 return from improved health and education among schoolchildren and increased productivity when they become adults.
INTERNATIONAL RESCUE COMMITTEE - Laura Kyrke-Smith, IRC UK executive director
Women and girls are often left behind in the context of crises. In 2020, the international community must redouble its efforts to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls.
Resolving the conflict in Yemen has never been more urgent. At the current rate of decline, it will take 20 years to return Yemen to pre-crisis levels of child hunger. Now is the time to seize this opportunity for peace.
CHRISTIAN AID - Patrick Watt, director of policy
Our key focus will be on climate justice because it''s those people living in poverty who are on the frontline of the climate crisis. We want to raise our voices to create lasting change for those who need it most.
We''ll also be working on economic justice because our current economic system is broken. This is driving inequality, poverty and climate breakdown at a time when progress is slipping towards the 2030 goal of ending extreme poverty.
Millions of people around the world are already suffering the humanitarian consequences of climate change. Our priority will be helping communities find innovative, low-cost, and sustainable adaptation and risk reduction measures to the impacts of climate change.
We will also scale up and ensure early mental health and psychosocial support in humanitarian crises. Mental health and psychosocial support during humanitarian crises can make the difference between life and death.
U.N. FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION - Dominique Burgeon, director of emergencies
Scale up our efforts to engage with agriculture-reliant communities and boost their resilience before shocks like droughts or floods hit, via our "Early Warning for Early Action" initiative. This can prevent a shock from becoming a crisis and is far more cost-efficient than post disaster relief.
Respond rapidly in emergency situations from the earliest days of a disaster or crisis to help impacted rural farming families stay or get back on their feet and producing food, straight away. Even in crises contexts, it''s possible to do this, and doing so makes a real difference.
ACTIONAID UK - Girish Menon, chief executive
All too often, there''s no justice for women and girls affected by violence so we''ll campaign to fix broken justice systems that protect abusers and punish women. As we continue to see rollbacks in women''s rights, we will keep calling out gender inequality and violence.
We wll work harder to promote women''s leadership in communities facing humanitarian crisis. Experience shows us that their influence leads both to better immediate responses and to longer term impact.
OXFAM GB - Danny Sriskandarajah, chief executive
The climate emergency is pushing millions or people deeper into hunger and poverty, with more than 52 million across 18 African countries facing hunger due to extreme weather. 2020 will be a pivotal year for countries to agree carbon emissions reductions and secure funding to help poorer nations cope.
Next year marks five years since the escalation in the Yemen conflict. We wll continue to provide assistance to millions without food, clean water and health care, as well as challenging international arms sales to members of the Saudi-led coalition.
PLAN INTERNATIONAL - Sean Maguire, executive director of influencing
A key focus in 2020 is supporting global grassroots youth activism for gender equality through Girls Get Equal. Through this campaign, we aim to continue helping young people smash the stereotypes that hold girls back.
Our other key focus is on tackling the unique needs of girls in crisis situations, whether this is the safety and educational needs of girls in refugee camps, as part of displaced groups or due to drought, for example in Eastern Africa.
CATHOLIC RELIEF SERVICES - Sean Callahan, president and CEO
Climate change is causing land degradation and flooding. We are working on land restoration, which can help mitigate climate change impacts for farmers and coastal communities, but it needs to be done quickly and at scale.
Another priority is responding to the crisis in Central America where people have become increasingly vulnerable and unable to feed their families. We foresee drought conditions, in addition to tremendous violence, continuing to force many to make the dangerous trip northward.
Dec. 2019
Médecins Sans Frontières, Doctors Without Borders: A year in pictures 2019
Trying to tell thousands of stories in just over 50 images. After sifting through the more than 8,000 photos that we released over the last 12 months (November 2018 – November 2019), we’ve chosen a series of simple, yet powerful images we think represented the scope of our work in 2019.
The photographers were there on the ground capturing these moments as our teams responded to natural disasters, epidemics and conflict in around 70 countries. These 54 pictures of the year make up just a part of our bearing witness, to what our teams see and do every day:

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IRC Emergency Watchlist 2020
by International Rescue Committee (IRC)
Watchlist 2020 highlights the countries where the International Rescue Committee assesses there to be the greatest risk of a major deterioration in the humanitarian situation in the coming year.
The countries on Watchlist 2020 have changed little since last year, underscoring both the protracted nature of many of these crises and collective failure of the international community to resolve their root causes.
In many cases, constraints on humanitarian access contribute to the already precarious conditions of Watchlist 2020 countries.
Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Syria, Nigeria and Venezuela are Watchlist 2020’s Top Five crises. These five countries were also featured in the Top Ten of last year’s Watchlist.
Yemen tops the IRC’s Watchlist for the second year running, reflecting the impact of the country’s prolonged and internationalized civil war. While there are some positive signs that diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict may be taking root, these are yet to translate into a major reduction in humanitarian need.
Yemen’s top ranking indicates the persistent risk of further deterioration of the humanitarian situation due to renewed conflict or constraints on humanitarian action.
There are three new additions (Burkina Faso, Burundi and Chad) to this year’s Watchlist. Four countries have dropped off since last year (Bangladesh, Mexico, Nicaragua and Pakistan).
This year’s Watchlist has 20 countries on it, one fewer than in 2019. These changes reflect both the IRC’s evolving analysis and the changing situations in these countries. Burkina Faso is a new addition to not just the Watchlist as a whole but also to the Top Ten. The IRC deployed an emergency team to Burkina Faso to respond to the rapidly intensifying conflict and deteriorating humanitarian situation in early 2019 and is now establishing a new country program.
Overall, the 20 countries on IRC’s Watchlist 2020 are home to just over 10% of the global population but host 80% of all people identified as being in need. In 2018 they produced nearly 74% of the world’s IDPs and over 86% of the world’s refugees - over 20 million people including refugees under UNHCR’s mandate and Venezuelans displaced abroad.
The IRC is responding to the crises in all of the countries on the Watchlist with the exception of Sudan, where the IRC is now registered and moving forward with the re-launch of humanitarian programs.
Most of these humanitarian crises have been characterized by large-scale conflict, mass displacement and violations of International Humanitarian Law – all with severe impacts on the civilian populations.
For the first time, this year’s Watchlist includes a brief section outlining the access challenges humanitarians confront in each country. Restrictions on humanitarian access are a major concern across all Watchlist countries and could significantly undermine the ability of humanitarian actors to respond to these crises and meet growing needs in 2020.
According to ACAPS, there are “very high” or “extreme” obstacles to humanitarian access in all of the Top Five countries and in 14 of the 20 Watchlist countries.
* Emergency Watchlist 2020 (50pp):
* ACAPS Humanitarian Access Overview (Oct. 2019):

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