Mar 9, 2022 - Politics & Policy

A world in crisis

Data: UNHCR/OCHA; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

After a pandemic, multiple food shortages, the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and now an exodus of Ukrainians fleeing the Russian military, global aid groups say they can barely keep up with the world's cascading humanitarian crises.

Why it matters: Governments around the world rely on help from large non-governmental organizations to feed, house and care for people facing catastrophe and displacement. But they tell Axios they're being stretched past their breaking points.

"It feels like this year is going to be — if not unprecedented — the worst year for humanitarian need that we've seen in a very long time," International Rescue Committee's (IRC) director of emergencies, Bob Kitchen, told Axios.

Driving the news: Right now, aid groups are scrambling to provide support within Ukraine, as well as to surrounding nations welcoming the now more than 2 million refugees — places like Poland, Romania, Germany and Greece.

  • It's been the fastest movement of populations the world has seen since at least World War II, experts say.
  • Many of the same agencies sprung into action as refugees poured out of Afghanistan last year.
  • At the same time, West Africa is headed toward devastating drought and food insecurity — over 38 million people will likely experience severe food insecurity this summer. Separately, the Horn of Africa is facing what could be the worst food crisis in 30 years — even more devastating than the 2011 famine that killed some 250,000 Somalis, half of them children.
  • Conflict and other disasters continue in Yemen, Syria, Myanmar and elsewhere, as well.

"The world's humanitarian funding machine just doesn't have enough money to face all of the people in need this year," Kitchen said.

  • Aid groups could be forced to make life-or-death decisions about how to spend limited resources, said Save the Children's head of humanitarian response, Greg Ramm.
  • "Do you cut in half the number of people getting assistance? Or do you cut in half the amount of assistance you're giving so everybody gets a little less than what they really need?"

By the numbers: One in 29 people worldwide were in need of humanitarian assistance at the end of 2021, according to U.N. data. That's risen from 1 in 33 in 2020 and 1 in 45 in 2019.

What they're saying: Well-known groups such as IRC, Save the Children and Mercy Corps told Axios they are feeling the strain of so many global crises at once.

  • "Capacity at Save the Children and elsewhere is stretched beyond the breaking point — stretched beyond what all of us can do collectively," Ramm said.
  • "Every once in a while everybody picks their head up, and we look at each other, [asking] 'Is it just me or does this seem extra crazy?' And this is crazy," Mercy Corp's senior vice president of programs, Craig Redmond, said.

Between the lines: These NGO leaders praised the global response to the situation of Ukraine, but also expressed regret and frustration that not all nations are given the same level of support and attention from the wealthiest of nations and people.

  • For example, the Republic of Congo has more residents in need of humanitarian aid than any other country — 27 million people. The country received only 39% of the funds it needed last year.
  • All three NGO workers Axios spoke to raised concern about the looming catastrophe in the Horn of Africa, which is heading toward a severe hunger crisis.

What to watch: Conflict and climate change are already expected to be the biggest impediments to development and security in nations around the world.

  • "Then you get force multipliers like the pandemic that come along as well that stress markets, that stress healthcare systems and other kinds of systems. The confluence of all those issues at once," Redmond said.
  • "It's just nightmarish."

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