Dec 17, 2020 - World

Yemen, Afghanistan and Syria top list of gravest humanitarian crises

A school in Kaya, Burkina Faso, where many of the students are recently displaced. Photo: Olympia De Maismont/AFP via Getty.

Yemen topped the International Rescue Committee's annual watchlist of the world's most dire humanitarian crises for the third consecutive year, followed by Afghanistan and Syria.

The big picture: All three face chronic violence and instability, and Yemen is one of four countries at risk of famine in the coming year (the others are Burkina Faso, South Sudan and northeastern Nigeria).

  • Top 10: Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, South Sudan, Nigeria, Venezuela, Mozambique.
  • Watchlist countries: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Lebanon, Mali, Niger, Palestine, Somalia, Sudan.

The good news: In a briefing with reporters, IRC CEO David Miliband noted that the "sting of direct COVID impact" on those 20 countries has been less severe than feared.

  • But the indirect impacts on public health campaigns like vaccinations, treatments for illnesses like malaria, and malnutrition rates had been severe due to the virus and its economic impacts, including on supply chains.

Zoom in: Burkina Faso is a newcomer to the IRC's top 10 list.

  • "Just two years ago, Burkina Faso faced virtually no mass conflict or displacement," per the IRC report. But the number of displaced people there has doubled this year to over 1 million.

"For a long time, Burkina Faso was spared from the neighboring conflicts," says the IRC's director in the country, Alain Cavenaile, referring to violence in other Sahelian countries, like Mali.

  • Former President Blaise Compaoré had essentially formed a truce with local armed groups, but it broke down after he was ousted in 2014.
  • Mass displacement began in 2018 and accelerated over the past year, Cavenaile says. Small bands of armed fighters will often arrive in a community, kill a local leader and force everyone else to flee with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
  • With few refugee camps or other facilities available, the displaced people — mostly women and children — are hosted in other communities, straining resources there.

What to watch: Roch Kabore was re-elected as Burkina Faso's president on Nov. 26. He has refused to negotiate with the fighters and attempted to establish "security bubbles" around major cities.

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