Worst humanitarian crises around the world

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May 1, 2019
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Worst humanitarian crises around the world

The United Nations reports that 135.3 million people live each day without the most simple basics: food for breakfast, pills for pain, clean water to drink, or a covering to block the sun. Typically, young children living through these humanitarian crises suffer most; going without immunizations and essential nutrition for their bodies and minds to grow as they should. Carefree childhood is practically unheard of, and education is often out of the question. School may be too far away, children may be sick or too weak to attend, families may need their sons and daughters at home to work, or the road to the classroom is littered with the dangers of exploded weaponry, landmines or live gunfire.

Some suffering countries have the unfortunate distinction of being well-known for misery, like Ethiopia and Somalia, where images of stricken, starving families are all too familiar.

Others are small, like tiny Burundi, deep in the mountains of East Africa, or remote, like the barren desert plains of Chad. The crisis in Venezuela is one some might not have foreseen, as not so many years ago, the oil-rich country was vibrant and bustling. Aid experts warn that further humanitarian crises could lay ahead for Mexico, Bangladesh, and the Philippines.

Natural disaster seems to batter some needy countries relentlessly, such as Haiti, where earthquakes, landslides, and hurricanes are followed by outbreaks of deadly diseases. Other crises are the fault of human beings, fighting over power, property, riches, and religion.

War, often brought by outsiders, is to blame for the horrors of life in South Sudan, Iraq, and Yemen, where four out of five people need urgent help. Those living in the path of violence lose their houses, their farms, their jobs, and any promise of building a lasting livelihood. Among the neediest people in the world are refugees forced to flee their homes, seeking a better life or merely one safer than the one they are leaving behind.

Humanitarian suffering worsens when countries are consumed by an array of disasters, and when internal clashes join with violence spilling over borders. Communities often lack the resilience and resources to cope with unremitting droughts and flooding from climate change—not to mention the sudden onslaught of a tsunami or mudslide.

The money needed for global humanitarian aid this year is estimated at $25 billion. This list draws upon the expertise and data of agencies at the United Nations, the International Rescue Committee's Emergency Watchlist, and other leading charities that have calculated human risks, natural risks, vulnerabilities, populations, and needs.

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Thrust yet again into conflict after Sept. 11, 2001, Afghanistan has been beset by severe food shortages and drought that have put more than 3 million people in emergency food situations. Its living standards are among the lowest in the world, and some 6.3 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance from such groups as Britain's Afghanaid. The United Nations, which puts the cost of Afghan aid at more than $600 million, said recently that its humanitarian needs “shows little sign of abating.”


The tiny East African nation of Burundi is among the poorest countries in the world, and 1.8 million people there this year will need humanitarian assistance. Required aid to the country is estimated at $106 million. Population growth is problematic, and Burundi is at high risk of an Ebola outbreak.


Cameroon has been torn apart by separatist violence since 2017 that has divided its Anglophone region from the majority Francophone government. With instability since a disputed presidential election last fall, violence at the borders by Boko Haram in Nigeria and in neighboring Central African Republic, humanitarian groups say the number of people in need in Cameroon grew by a third last year alone. They say 4.3 million people need aid, and humanitarian groups such as UNICEF are aiming to reach 2.3 million people this year who will need $392 million in aid.

Central African Republic

The Central African Republic, or CAR, has been in the throes of instability since the overthrow of its government in 2013, lashed by conflicts among armed groups that prey on civilians as they battle over cattle routes, diamonds, uranium, and gold. In the North and East, more than a half million people are suffering acute malnutrition. Some armed groups target aid groups, making CAR one of the most dangerous countries for humanitarian workers. Nearly 3 million people need assistance, and the United Nations says aid will cost $430.7 million.


Nearly a third of people living in Chad—4.1 million people—need humanitarian assistance, according to the United Nations. Chad's Lake province has been hit by violence in neighboring Nigeria and along the border with Niger, forcing residents from their homes, livelihoods, and sources of food. Environmental degradation, flooding, and population growth have made matters worse, according to the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization. The nation requires some $500 million in aid, according to the U.N. report.

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Nearly 13 million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo—a nation plagued by decades of conflict—need assistance, according to the United Nations. Humanitarian experts estimate nearly $1.7 billion is required to reach the most vulnerable people; the largest donor is the United States, which has allotted $330 million. In the DRC, which is as big as Western Europe with a population of 80 million people, violence has forced 4.5 million people from their homes. The DRC was the site of an Ebola outbreak declared in August 2018 that is the second largest in recorded history. As of mid-April, public health officials documented nearly 1,300 confirmed and probable cases and more than 800 deaths.


Ethiopia struggles with constant food struggles, rooted in back-to-back droughts from 2015 to 2017. Ethiopian officials say that in 2019, 8.3 million people will require emergency food and non-food assistance, at a cost of $1.3 billion. Aid groups say any natural disaster such as extreme weather is likely to have a major impact, and internal regional conflict is at risk of worsening.


Haiti stands out for its vulnerability to natural disasters, wracked by hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts and floods, compounded by severe poverty, hunger, political instability and a lack of basic services, along with epidemics of cholera, diphtheria and malaria. Some 2.6 million people are in need of aid, nearly half of them children. The United Nations estimates Haiti needs $117.4 million in assistance. Ursula Mueller, deputy humanitarian chief, U.N., said that last year the humanitarian appeal for Haiti was funded at just 13%, making it the most under-funded humanitarian crisis in the world.


Iraq is straining under the needs of 6 million people displaced during its years of conflict with militant extremists. Nearly 2 million people remain in camps and other settlements that are dangerous and lack essential services, unable or unwilling to return to destroyed homes, lost livelihoods, and the likelihood of retaliation. With aid organizations focusing on post-war solutions, the number of people in need is expected to drop this year to 6.7 million from 8.7 million, and the cost of aid is estimated at $570 million.


Libya plunged into instability in 2001 with the overthrow of longtime strongman Moammar Gadhafi. Violent conflicts rage among anti-government forces, the United Nations-backed government in Tripoli, armed militias, and attackers along the south border with Chad. Libya suffers from shortages of food, fuel, and medical supplies, and human rights violations are widespread. It is a key route as well for hundreds of thousands of migrants hoping to reach Europe who easily fall prey to trafficking, exploitation, and gender-based violence. This year, humanitarian organizations say more than 800,000 Libyans, refugees and migrants need aid, putting the overall cost at $202 million.


The humanitarian crisis in Mali is largely centered in its north and central regions, where extremist violence has compounded tensions over scarce resources. The United Nations says the humanitarian situation has “significantly deteriorated” in those regions over the past year. In the landlocked West African nation, 3.2 million people need humanitarian assistance in 2019, according to aid groups that include UNICEF. That’s one out of five people, with a cost to help the neediest estimated at $310 million.


Man-made and natural disasters make a toxic recipe for humanitarian crisis in Myanmar, where conflicts involving armed groups and government forces have left many in need beyond the reach of humanitarian aid. Constraints on access kept UNICEF from reaching all of the 9,000 children in need of help for severe acute malnutrition in 2018. An illicit economy is fed by drug production and human trafficking, and the imposition of international sanctions has added to the economic pressures. Myanmar is one of the world's most vulnerable countries to natural disasters, particularly earthquakes, landslides, and flooding. Nearly 1 million people are deemed in need, at a cost of more than $200 million.


One of the least developed countries in the world, Niger is shaken by violence and instability from neighboring Nigeria and Mali, and it is a major route for asylum-seekers. Some 2.3 million people need assistance in the landlocked West African nation, most suffering from acute malnutrition. The United Nations says Niger needs $340 million in aid. Climate change is exacerbating the crises, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which says farmers and herders are fighting over diminishing usable land and unreliable water resources. Temperatures in the region are rising 1.5 times faster than the global average, rainfall is erratic and wet seasons are shrinking.


In Nigeria, Africa's largest economy, political and economic instability have combined with conflict in the Northeast, where government security forces are fighting Boko Haram extremists. More than 2 million people have been forced from their homes due to Boko Haram, which also makes huge regions inaccessible for humanitarian aid. Other internal disputes center on land rights, with farmers and cattle herders fighting for water and land. This year, more than 7 million Nigerians need humanitarian assistance, nearly all of them in the Northeast and nearly all of them women and children, at a cost of roughly $847.7 million.

Occupied Palestinian territory

In the occupied Palestinian territory, 2.5 million people need humanitarian aid. Their situation is rooted in a long-standing Israeli blockade on Gaza, internal Palestinian politics, and a lack of access to livelihoods and basic services. The health system is strained; clean water and sanitation are inadequate, and unemployment is high. One-third of Palestinians, mostly in Gaza, need food assistance, according the U.N.'s World Food Programme. The United Nations estimates $350 million in aid is needed.


Battered by repeated droughts and regional conflict, Somalia is home to 3.4 million people in need of humanitarian aid and protection as United Nations and African Union peacekeeping missions fight jihadists. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2.6 million Somalis are displaced internally. Some observers see cause for optimism in a recent World Bank assistance plan, but the government of Somalia and the U.N. say $1.08 billion is needed in humanitarian assistance.

South Sudan

A fragile peace agreement in South Sudan has raised hopes, but five years of civil war have left more than 7 million people in need of assistance, and international agencies put the price tag for aid at $1.5 billion. Last summer, nearly two-thirds of the population faced a food crisis, and predictions say this year will be worse. Famine, last declared in 2017, could arise again if the peace deal fails. More than 10% of the population has been forced from home, and about 1.5 million people live in regions where violence and other issues make it difficult for them to get aid. According to the United Nations, one primary health center serves an average of 50,000 people.


A declining economy darkens the outlook in Sudan, struggling under the weight of more than 2 million internal refugees. Some 5.5 million people need humanitarian assistance, and the cost of aid is estimated at approximately $1 billion. With prices rising and purchase power sinking, vulnerable households are cutting back on food and education, and about 2.4 million children under age 5 suffer wasting every year. Sudan struggled to obtain development financing due to the impact of former sanctions and its listing by the United States as a state sponsor of terrorism. The U.S., the largest international donor of humanitarian assistance in Sudan, has declared disaster there every year since 1987.


War in Syria has been catastrophic, aid agencies say, with more than 6 million internal refugees and nearly as many living as refugees elsewhere. The U.N. estimates displaced people account for more than half of Syria's prewar population of about 22 million. Its health and education systems have collapsed, and conditions remain unsafe for refugees to return home. Tensions remain high among pro-government forces and an array of armed opposition groups, making fresh violence a very real possibility and adding to refugees' inability to go home. Some 13 million people are likely to require humanitarian assistance in 2019.


Conflict in eastern Ukraine, along a stretch of roughly 300 miles dubbed the “contact line” between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatist rebels, has put 3.5 million people in need of urgent humanitarian aid and protection. It is one of the most mine-contaminated stretches in the world. Among the needy in Ukraine, one-third are elderly, and the United Nations says $162 million in aid is needed.


Economic collapse has left Venezuela, where oil reserves once made it the richest country in South America, in tatters. The price of food and health care has spiraled out of reach, sparking a mass migration crisis. The crisis has created millions of refugees, many of whom have fled to neighboring countries. According to the United Nations, 3.6 million people need aid, estimated to cost $738 million. The migration has put pressure on countries such as Colombia, where Mercy Corps is active in aid efforts, as well as Brazil, Peru, Panama, Ecuador, and nations in the Caribbean.


According to the United Nations, the humanitarian crisis in war-torn Yemen is the worst in the world, and the Middle Eastern country is at risk of massive famine. Some 24 million Yemenis need humanitarian assistance, according to the U.N. That includes nearly 2 million children and more than 1 million nursing and pregnant women. More than 200 humanitarian groups are involved in the aid effort, which will need $4 billion in assistance funding.

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