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A record 235 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection next year
by UN News, Office for Humanitarian Affairs
12:42pm 2nd Dec, 2020
Dec. 2020
A record 235 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection next year, a near 40 per cent increase on 2020 which is “almost entirely from COVID-19”, the UN’s emergency relief chief said on Tuesday.
In an appeal for sufficient aid funding to meet rising humanitarian needs in the next next year, Mark Lowcock said that the global health crisis had impacted dramatically people already reeling from conflict, record levels of displacement, climate change shocks. He said that “multiple” famines are looming.
The situation is “desperate” for millions and has left the UN and partners “overwhelmed”.
“The picture we are presenting is the bleakest and darkest perspective on humanitarian needs in the period ahead that we have ever set out.
That is a reflection of the fact that the COVID pandemic has wreaked carnage across the whole of the most fragile and vulnerable countries on the planet.”
"It has been clear for some time that it is not the virus itself doing most harm in vulnerable countries. It is the secondary impacts of the subsequent lockdowns and global recession – rising food prices, falling incomes, drops in remittances, interrupted vaccination programmes, school closures. They all hit the poorest people in the poorest countries hardest". 
"Extreme poverty is increasing. Life expectancy will fall. The annual death toll from HIV, tuberculosis and malaria is set to double. We fear a near doubling in the number of people facing starvation. Many girls out of school will never go back".
The rise of hunger shows no signs of abating. By the end of 2020, the number of acutely food insecure people could increase to 270 million due to COVID-19, representing an 82 per cent increase compared to the number of acutely food insecure people pre-COVID-19. Urgent and sustained humanitarian action is needed to avoid further deterioration and to prevent a risk of famine in areas already on the brink of starvation.
"The pandemic has been devastating but for many of the countries whose needs we are responding to in this plan it was yet another layer of hardship on top of protracted conflicts, the effects of climate change, and the worst locust plague for a generation".
"Altogether it’s a toxic mix that has driven humanitarian need to levels unimaginable at the start of the year.  As we look ahead we face the prospect of a return to a world in which famine – something we thought we had consigned to history – is commonplace once more. Where the rights and prospects of women and girls are set back. Where parents cannot confidently expect their babies to reach their fifth birthday".
"All this can be avoided. Working together to find and fund solutions is the only way out. Wealthy nations have the means and motivation to help. Local problems become global problems if you let them. There is a strong moral and self-interest argument to act".
"We still don’t have a response that matches the scale of the crisis. We need the plans summarized in this overview to be fully funded - $35 billion is required to meet the needs of 160 million people. The faster that happens, the better. This is a crucial juncture. We won’t get a second chance to make the right choice".
"I have never been more in awe of the determination of people who live unimaginably hard lives in humanitarian tragedies, and their refusal to give up hope. Human progress is hard won and fragile. History will judge us harshly if we preside over the grand reversal". 
Echoing Mr. Lowcock’s call for global solidarity, UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged the world to “stand with people in their darkest hour of need”, as the global pandemic continues to worsen.
Although the humanitarian system had delivered “food, medicines, shelter, education and other essentials to tens of millions of people throughout the year, “the crisis is far from over”, the UN chief said.
This year’s Global Humanitarian Overview (GHO) sets out plans “to reach 160 million of the most vulnerable people in 56 countries”, Mr. Lowcock said.
He noted that while richer countries had invested some $10 trillion in staving off economic disaster from the COVID-induced slump and could now see “light at the end of the tunnel…the same is not true in the poorest countries”.
The COVID-19 crisis had plunged millions into poverty “and sent humanitarian needs skyrocketing,” Mr. Lowcock explained, adding that aid funding was needed to “stave off famine, fight poverty, and keep children vaccinated and in school”.
Money will also be used from the UN’s Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF) to tackle rising violence against women and girls linked to the pandemic, Mr. Lowcock said.
He also highlighted how climate change and rising global temperatures had further contributed to the bleak outlook for humanitarian needs in 2021, the impact being “most acute in the countries which have also got the biggest humanitarian problems. Indeed, eight of the 10 countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change are ones where humanitarian agencies have got a huge amount of work to do already.”
Conflicts new and old had also contributed to increased needs, the UN relief chief said, pointing to “new spikes of conflict in places that were previously more peaceful. We’ve seen that obviously recently in Nagorno-Karabakh, we’ve seen it in northern Mozambique, we’ve seen it in the Western Sahara and at the moment obviously, tragically, we’re seeing in northern Ethiopia.”
Sadly, these flare-ups “haven’t replaced conflicts in other places”, said Mr. Lowcock. “In fact, things are just as bad now in the biggest humanitarian settings driven by conflict as they were a year ago.”
“We’re overwhelmed with problems, as you know, but just the scale of the need and the scale of crisis is such that these efforts to anticipate things make things a little bit better than they would otherwise have been, but they still leave us with a terrible, desperate situation.”
In addition to providing the means to help communities in crisis, Mr. Lowcock underscored the UN appeal’s focus on preventive action.
This included a cash injection for the World Health Organization (WHO) in February at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, to ensure that poorer countries received protective equipment to tackle COVID-19.
Similarly, tens of thousands of potential flood victims in Bangladesh received “support and cash” help in time so that they could protect their belongings and livelihoods.
“What we ended up with there was a much cheaper, more effective response as well as one that dramatically reduced the human suffering we would have had than if we’d done the traditional thing - waiting until floods arrive,” Mr. Lowcock highlighted.
The UN emergency relief chief underscored that the scale of the challenges facing humanitarian agencies next year are massive – and growing. “If we get through 2021 without major famines that will be a significant achievement,” he said. “The red lights are flashing, and the alarm bells are ringing.”

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