5 Key Takeaways From The UN’s Global Humanitarian Overview

A search and rescue team begins their mission after the 2020 Beirut explosion in Lebanon. Photo: Farid Assaf / UNOCHA

It’s the most comprehensive aid plan in history — and it’s designed to save 183 million lives.

The UN has released its Global Humanitarian Overview (GHO) 2022, a snapshot and forecast for how international aid agencies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and governments can assist the world’s most vulnerable people next year.

From conflict in Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen to historic drought and flooding in Madagascar and South Sudan to human rights abuses in Myanmar and Ethiopia, the changing humanitarian landscape presents unique challenges for first responders.

Conflict, climate change, and COVID-19 remain the leading causes of displacement, poverty, and hunger — and the vulnerable are experiencing the worst of all three.

“Just when you thought it could not get any worse, the numbers are terrifying,” David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), said in a video address during the report’s launch. “I’m not talking about people going to bed hungry every night. I’m talking about record levels of families starving.”

“This is the moment to double down,” the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, wrote in the GHO’s foreword. “The outlook it presents is bleak. But I am encouraged. Not only by the results the humanitarian system can achieve but by its innovation.”

Aicha, a displaced woman, in her tent at the informal camp in Bagoundié, Mali. The camp hosts 300 families who fled their homes due to ongoing conflict. Photo: Michele Cattani / UNOCHA

As humanitarian leaders call for global investment and action, here are five things to know about the world’s most dire crises — and how you can help.

5 key takeaways from the report:

1. Climate change is its own humanitarian crisis.

While conflict remains the leading cause of hunger and humanitarian need, the consequences of climate change are also wreaking havoc on the planet — and people everywhere. In 2020, extreme weather drove nearly 16 million people into hunger. In 2021, climate change joined conflict as a root cause of famine. Severe drought in Madagascar has pushed millions of people to the brink of starvation.

Worse still, the consequences of climate change are hitting countries that are the least equipped to respond or adapt. In South Sudan, for example, communities are facing historic floods and severe drought against a backdrop of ongoing civil conflict.

“The climate crisis is hitting the world’s most vulnerable people first and worst,” Griffiths said.

2. We need to shift our dollars toward prevention.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than 50% of all humanitarian crises are somewhat predictable, yet less than 1% of funding is available for “anticipatory action,” such as pre-positioning emergency supplies or distributing water purification tablets.

Governments and humanitarian agencies saved millions of lives by taking early action in 2017 to prevent famine in northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen. In 2020, Bangladesh became the first country to use the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), a humanitarian fund established by the UN, for anticipatory action ahead of a severe flooding forecast. More than $5 million was released within four hours of the trigger, making it the fastest release of CERF funding since it was set up in 2006 and assisting 220,000 people along the country’s Jamuna River.

A view of the flooding in Duk County, South Sudan. Photo: Anthony John Burke / UNOCHA

3. We need to focus more on agricultural aid that helps people grow food where it is most needed.

Rising food prices and disruptions in the global supply chain have exposed the weaknesses of traditional food aid, which involves transporting massive quantities of food by ship — a process that is costly and time-consuming and that contributes to global carbon emissions.

“The number of people facing acute food insecurity has risen from 108 million five years ago to 161 million today. It’s time to change our game plan,” QU Dongyu, Director-General of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said of the need to shift resources toward the agriculture sector, which receives just 8% of humanitarian funding.

Innovative programs such as hydroponic agriculture in refugee camps and solar-powered irrigation systems in drought-stricken areas can help lift households out of poverty and hunger in a more sustainable and cost-effective way. In Yemen, for example, it costs just $8 to vaccinate and deworm a small herd of livestock, which can mean the difference between life and death for the family that relies on its milk to survive.

4. COVID-19 continues to threaten our progress — especially for women and girls.

The pandemic has further complicated an already challenging humanitarian environment. In addition to a death toll of 5 million worldwide and counting, COVID-19 has disrupted the global supply chain, causing a spike in food prices that makes it harder for humanitarian agencies to stretch already thin budgets. Vaccines against COVID-19 remain out of reach for the world’s most vulnerable, while routine immunizations against measles, polio, and rotavirus and other diseases have plummeted. In 2021, some 23 million children worldwide under the age of 1 missed basic childhood vaccines. Testing, diagnosis, and treatment rates for HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria have also fallen worldwide, as have prenatal care visits. After two decades in decline, extreme poverty is increasing.

COVID-19 has been particularly devastating for the planet’s women and girls, who have disproportionately borne the brunt as the majority of the world’s health care workers and child care providers. Because the virus forced millions of children out of the classroom, millions of people, particularly women, fell out of the workforce. Across the globe, household incomes have fallen and reports of domestic violence have risen, leading UN Women to warn about a “shadow pandemic.”

Students walk toward the schoolyard at Gandaria Mohila Somity Government Primary School, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo: Bashir Ahmen Sujan / UNICEF

But there is also cause for hope: Better data collection is helping address the specific needs of women and girls in crisis. More women are assuming leadership roles in the humanitarian sector, and local leaders are gaining wider recognition by international agencies as key first responders and strategic planners, especially during the pandemic.

5. it’s time to invest in humanity.

Simply put, funding isn’t keeping pace with the number of people in need. In the past four years, the cost for global humanitarian relief has doubled. Yet donors provided less than half of what the UN requested for its operations in 2021.

“The world is on fire,” Mr. Beasley wrote. “I’ve been warning about the perfect storm brewing due to COVID, conflict, climate shocks and now, rising supply chain costs. It is here.”

This year, the UN reached 107 million people with humanitarian support. Next year’s goal is to increase that number to 183 million.

One of the fastest and most effective ways to fund this work is by donating to the CERF. Established as a “fund for all, by all,” CERF enables UN agencies to kick-start aid operations within hours of a disaster. Since its launch, the global emergency fund has provided more than $7 billion in lifesaving assistance to 100 countries in crisis, including those that don’t get the attention or support they deserve.

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