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10 crises that the international community cannot neglect
by UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs
11:46pm 13th Oct, 2020
COVID-19 has hit dozens of countries that are also dealing with humanitarian crises. Rather than divert vital funding from these humanitarian operations, which are keeping tens of millions of people alive, the Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19 has required significant additional funding.
As of the end of September, 259 million people need our help. This is almost triple the number of people in need at the same time last year.
Critical funding provides these people with life-saving support including food; malnutrition treatment; cholera, measles and polio prevention; emergency education and protection. But if funding for these efforts is diverted, millions of the world’s most vulnerable people will lose their lives.
We highlight 10 crises that the international community cannot neglect.
Central Sahel Region: Violence, displacement and hunger
The Central Sahel border region between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger is the epicentre of one of the world's fastest-growing humanitarian crises. Across those three countries, a record 13.4 million people — including 5 million children — now need humanitarian assistance due to violence between armed groups, widespread poverty and natural disasters caused by climate change. In less than two years, violence and insecurity have driven 1.4 million people from their homes, which is a twentyfold increase, and pushed 6.6 million people to acute hunger levels – a massive increase.
Lockdowns and other COVID-19 prevention measures have forced an additional 6 million people into extreme poverty. The UN and partners are working to support Central Sahel on several fronts – from finding solutions to end the violence, to providing humanitarian and development assistance to save lives and rebuild communities. However, the US$1.4 billion Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for 2020 is only 38 per cent funded.
Mozambique: Double crisis in Cabo Delgado
Conflict in Mozambique’s northern province of Cabo Delgado, home to over 2.2 million people, has escalated significantly since January 2020. Violence was previously confined to smaller villages, but attacks on district capitals have increased and displacement has risen rapidly.
More than 300,000 people are now displaced, and some have fled across the border to Tanzania. This is a ‘double crisis’ for the many people who survived Cyclone Kenneth in April 2019, and flooding in December 2019 and January 2020.
Kenneth was the strongest cyclone ever to hit the African continent and left 374,000 people in need. An estimated 200,000 of those people still live in destroyed, damaged homes or makeshift shelters, and 6,600 still live in five resettlement sites in Cabo Delgado and Nampula provinces. These people need urgent assistance and protection.
Humanitarian partners launched a Rapid Response Plan and assisted more than 200,000 people this year, including through a $14 million allocation from the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF). However, the operating environment is highly complex; access to the areas hardest hit by conflict is extremely challenging. More funding is urgently needed to scale up the response.
Horn of Africa: Floods, locusts and hunger
Since the beginning of this year, the Greater Horn of Africa has experienced its worst desert locust upsurge in decades (over 70 years in Kenya; 25 years in Ethiopia and Somalia). With support from FAO, Governments have conducted massive aerial and ground control operations, with over 700,000 hectares treated since January. This was kick-started by a $10 million CERF allocation. However, the situation remains serious, with locusts breeding throughout the region.
Desert locusts are the world’s most destructive migratory pest. They have the potential to cause increased hunger and poverty levels in an already deeply food-insecure region that is simultaneously coping with COVID-19, floods, violence and conflict. Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan are hardest hit by and most at risk of desert locusts.
At least 29 million people are facing severe food insecurity, and 3.3 million people have been affected by devastating floods since March 2020. Nearly 8 million people are internally displaced and nearly 2.7 million are refugees.
Bangladesh and Myanmar: the Rohingya crisis
More than three years ago, some 745,000 mostly Rohingya people fled persecution, discrimination and targeted violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar, following an upsurge of villages being torched, women and girls raped, and thousands of people killed. Most of those who fled settled in and around Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, which became the world’s largest refugee camp.
But following successive waves of violence in Myanmar, there are now some 855,000 Rohingya in congested camps. They are receiving essential services, including medical assistance, from the Government and humanitarian organizations, but the camps’ crowded conditions make the refugees highly vulnerable to COVID-19. As of September 2020, the Joint Response Plan to support the Rohingya was 48 per cent funded, but the COVID-19 Response Plan for the camps was only 23.4 per cent funded.
After nearly eight years, some 130,000 Rohingya are still confined in camps in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, with restrictions on their access to health care, education and livelihoods. Rohingya communities outside the camps remain highly vulnerable and at risk of violence.
COVID-19 cases in Rakhine are increasing, while conflict in Rakhine and Chin States continues between the Myanmar armed forces and the Arakan Army. More than 93,000 people from different communities are displaced and civilian casualties are increasing.
Haiti: Malnutrition and hunger
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic reached Haiti, the country had a record-high number of people in need of humanitarian assistance. Some 4.6 million people – more than 40 per cent of the population – now require urgent support.
The political and socioeconomic crisis that led to what Haitians call peyi lok – a country on lockdown – significantly reduced access to food for the poorest households. This insecurity has prevented many organizations from delivering essential services and supplies.
The number of Haitians facing severe acute food insecurity has increased from 2.6 million to 4.1 million. Of those people, 1.2 million are facing emergency levels of hunger. Malnutrition among children has also increased, with 2.1 per cent of boys and girls facing severe acute malnutrition.
The crisis has further weakened the country’s health-care and education systems, which has heightened the risk of gang recruitment, physical abuse, trafficking and sexual exploitation of children and adolescents, and gender-based violence.
Yemen: Pandemic, war, and renewed risk of famine
Yemen remains the world’s largest life-saving operation despite competing global priorities due to COVID-19. Twenty-four million people in Yemen – about 80 per cent of the population – require assistance or protection. But a lack of funding is forcing core life-saving programmes in Yemen to close or dramatically scale back. Aid cuts have affected more than 9 million Yemenis this year, just as they are facing an unprecedented pandemic and a renewed risk of famine.
To avert immediate catastrophe, donors must pay all outstanding pledges and increase their support for the HRP for Yemen. Solutions are also needed to improve humanitarian access, strengthen the economy and – most importantly – end the war.
Afghanistan: COVID-19 forces a new type of response
After 40 years of war, annual natural disasters and persistent poverty, the COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the humanitarian operating environment in Afghanistan. The country’s humanitarian crisis now demands a deeper and wider response from aid organizations, using flexible and new approaches to expand reach and ensure uninterrupted life-saving support to the most vulnerable.
Fourteen million people are in need, up from 9.4 million people at the start of the year. Hunger is the primary driver of this increase; a third of the country is facing acute food insecurity (12.4 million people), including almost 4 million people (11 per cent of the population) at the emergency level. This is one of the highest food-insecurity figures in the world.
Afghanistan remains one of the most dangerous countries in which to be a humanitarian; there were 17 deaths, 30 injuries and 73 abductions of humanitarian staff this year. Despite the risks, humanitarians reached 390 out of 401 districts with some level of assistance.
The 2020 HRP remains 33 per cent funded. For the final months of this year, additional funding is urgently needed to cover significant gaps.
Democratic Republic of the Congo: From Ebola to COVID-19
Increasing insecurity combined with COVID-19, an economic decline and natural hazards have put the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in the ranks of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. The number of people in need has more than doubled from 12.8 million in 2019 to an unprecedented 25.6 million in 2020.
DRC has the world’s largest number of severely food insecure people (21.8 million) and the largest number of internally displaced people in Africa (5.5 million). It also has a high prevalence of malnutrition and disease outbreaks, including Ebola.
Humanitarian agencies are navigating an exceptionally complex environment, yet they continue to reach people in need. Challenges include insecurity, logistical constraints and funding gaps. The revised 2020 HRP called for $2.07 billion to help some 9 million people. So far, it is only 23 per cent funded.
Central African Republic: COVID-19 wreaks havoc
COVID-19 has deepened inequalities in the Central African Republic (CAR), further devastating the health, lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable, including women and young people. It has also exacerbated the humanitarian crisis. Intercommunal tensions, armed group clashes and attacks against civilians and humanitarian workers continue to affect humanitarian operations.
More than half the population (2.6 million people) require assistance. Some 2.4 million people suffer from acute hunger, including 750,000 who are in the emergency phase of food insecurity.
CAR is also one of the world’s most dangerous places for humanitarians, with more than one incident per day. In the first eight months of 2020, two humanitarians were killed and another 20 injured. Despite this extremely complex operating environment, the UN and partners have provided assistance to over 1.25 million people and increased coverage compared to the same period in 2019.
Syria: Unable to cope after a decade of conflict
The Syria crisis has entered its tenth year. More than 11 million people need humanitarian assistance, including 6.7 million IDPs. A further 5.6 million people who fled Syria are living in the region. Ongoing violence continues to affect civilians in some parts of the country, including along lines of control in the north-west and north-east. Only half of Syria’s public hospitals and less than half of its primary health-care centres are functional.
For the millions of people living in overcrowded settlements with inadequate shelter and a lack of basic services, COVID-19 poses yet another danger.
The pandemic combined with Syria’s economic crisis is having a devastating effect on a vulnerable population, where 8 in 10 Syrians were already living below the poverty line at the beginning of the year. Prices have increased 250 per cent since the same time last year, causing the number of food-insecure people to increase from 7.9 million to 9.3 million. More than 2 million other people are at risk.
The UN has increased its response by nearly 25 per cent since 2019; it reached an average of 7.5 million people in need each month in the first half of this year. WHO and other partners are doing all they can to prepare health facilities and raise awareness of COVID-19, but needs continue to outstrip the response.
# Please donate and make a difference: Your donations go directly to relief organizations delivering life-saving aid at the front lines of the world’s most severe crises. With your help, they can reach the most vulnerable people with food, clean water, medicine, shelter and much more when they need it most:
* Across these crises, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is mobilizing humanitarian funding, coordinating response, advocating for access and assistance to those most in need, sharing information on needs and priorities across the humanitarian sector, and sharing policy analysis and best practice.

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