- Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Yemen top the list of countries most at risk of deteriorating humanitarian crises in 2022.
- These 20 countries are home to 10% of the global population but account for 89% of those in need of humanitarian aid, 80% of refugees and asylum seekers and 76% of those internally displaced.
- The top 10 countries alone account for 72% of people in need, and six of them are in Africa.
- IRC analysis reveals that the international system meant to prevent and address humanitarian crises is not only failing, but also directly fueling crises, record displacement and humanitarian need.
- The IRC is calling on the EU - spearheaded by the incoming French presidency - to scale up its humanitarian leadership.
Brussels, Belgium, 14 December 2021 — Today, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), launches its annual Emergency Watchlist highlighting the 20 humanitarian crises which are expected to deteriorate most in 2022.
It reveals how the global system designed to protect civilians, prevent conflict, and guarantee that humanitarian aid reaches those in need is failing. This must be a wake-up call for the European Union and, in particular, for France, which is taking up the rotating presidency of the EU in January, and has a unique opportunity to demonstrate leadership in addressing issues of global concern.
Afghanistan tops the list of countries deemed most at risk in 2022, Ethiopia in second place, followed by Yemen in third place. The Watchlist’s “Top 10” includes Myanmar and Syria as well as five other African countries: Nigeria, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and Sudan.
The 20 countries on the Watchlist account for 89% of the people in humanitarian need worldwide. They are home to 274 million who will be dependent on humanitarian aid in 2022 - a significant increase from the 235 million in 2021, which was already the highest figure in decades. More than 100 million people living in these countries face severe food insecurity. Many of them have experienced almost non-stop conflict over the past decade.
The reason for the sharp rise in humanitarian need is the failure of the global system for preventing and addressing humanitarian crises. This “system failure” is characterised by states failing in their duties towards their citizens, people living in their territory, and those seeking protection, diplomacy failing to resolve conflicts, international law failing to protect well-established rights for civilians, and humanitarian operations being prevented from filling the widening gaps.
David Miliband, President and CEO at the International Rescue Committee, said:
“Every year the Watchlist is a sobering document. This year it is especially so. The crises we document in these countries are more than a series of unfortunate events - the scale and nature of humanitarian distress around the world constitutes a ‘System Failure’. This ‘System’, meant to ensure an upward path towards peace, prosperity and the rule of law is failing - and now is the time to call it out. Each day the international community perpetuates this failure, the world’s most vulnerable pay the price.”
Harlem Desir, Senior Vice President - Europe at the International Rescue Committee said:
“The EU is collectively the world’s biggest international aid donor. However, as one of the world’s wealthiest regions with global diplomatic influence, the EU can do more to protect people in need of humanitarian aid worldwide. This year’s Watchlist demonstrates the diplomatic, legal and operational failures that contribute to the record levels of human suffering we witness today. The system designed to protect civilians in conflict is failing, and the EU can do more through its humanitarian, aid and asylum policies to protect those in need and address the root causes of this system failure.
The EU has made some promising commitments to promote and protect International Humanitarian Law and overcome barriers to humanitarian access - as in its recent communication. Now it’s time to put these words into action and demonstrate EU leadership. EU aid commitments should better link humanitarian, development and peace efforts to address root causes of suffering. Moreover, humanitarian diplomacy should be placed at the centre of EU external action to drive a European-wide commitment to hold violators of international law to account. In this respect, it’s critical that the EU leads by example - upholding the right to asylum and protecting people at and within its own borders."
Vicki Aken, IRC Country Director for Afghanistan, said:
“The people of Afghanistan are trapped in a living nightmare. Virtually the entire health system and other basic services are on the brink of collapse, the country faces an unprecedented hunger crisis, and could see nearly universal poverty by mid-2022. This situation will worsen further still without rapid and sustained action - both humanitarian and political. If the global systems intended to support people in need were functioning, we wouldn’t be here now. At this critical juncture, the EU and broader international community have a duty not only to continue providing an urgent lifeline to the people of Afghanistan by scaling up support to public services and diplomatic efforts to protect women and girls, but to put a stop to the continued slide into humanitarian catastrophe facing Watchlist countries across the globe.”
IRC recommendations for the international community and European Union:
Tackling the symptoms
Lack of funding for humanitarian crises
- Redirect official development assistance (ODA) to target contexts hit hardest by System Failure by ensuring that 50% of EU ODA funding goes to fragile and conflict-affected states.
- Shift towards a funding model that is built around multi-year, flexible funding, ensuring that financing goes directly to NGOs and humanitarian implementers working on the frontline, including women-led, women’s rights and local organisations.
- Ensure that EU funding and cooperation with partner states is based on an equal partnership - that it is principled, needs-focused and aimed at maximising protection, access to life-saving assistance and progressing the Sustainable Development Goals. The principles espoused by Team Europe - the EU’s new financing partnerships approach - must be truly transformative in reality, not just on paper. Its activities must be fully transparent, and involve civil society and third country partners.
Barriers to humanitarian access
- The EU must make good on its recent commitments to step up humanitarian diplomacy - including galvanising stronger political backing from member states to ensure that protecting International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and overcoming barriers to humanitarian access become top priorities for the EU.
Lack of access to COVID-19 vaccines
- Address the triple emergency of COVID, conflict and climate change that is wreaking havoc in these Watchlist countries. Recognising that it will take more than widespread access to vaccines to address the ongoing crisis - including its impact on food prices, health systems and livelihoods - combating global COVID vaccine inequity remains essential. This should include redistributing excess vaccines from wealthy countries, empowering states in the Global South to manufacture vaccines, and financing distribution in fragile and conflict-affected settings.
Record levels of global displacement
- People on the move must be sufficiently supported, have their needs met, rights upheld, and be provided with safe and legal pathways to protection, rather than prevented from reaching safety in Europe.
- In light of the sky high resettlement needs worldwide, notably in Africa and the deteriorating situation along the Central Mediterranean Route, and the ongoing needs in the Afghanistan region, EU member states must commit to significantly expand refugee resettlement pledges in the coming years. We welcome EU countries’ indications that nearly 40,000 Afghans at risk will be able to access safe pathways to Europe: these places must be urgently made available, and be additional to at least 36,000 refugee resettlement places from across other regions in need in 2022.
Tackling the root causes
- Encourage UN Security Council members’ support for the French proposal to suspend the veto in cases of mass atrocities to overcome the Council’s paralysis on some of the world’s most severe conflicts.
- Support the establishment of an Organisation for the Protection of Humanitarian Access to bring new status and force to expose the strangulation and weaponisation of humanitarian aid.
- Expand monitoring of IHL violations, making sure that the new EU coordination mechanism on this complements, not duplicates, existing efforts and draws on the best practice of existing approaches in consultation with humanitarian actors.
- Build commitment to IHL into EU partnerships, as well as in political and security dialogues with third countries. All partnerships must be conditional on preventing violations of IHL.
- Encourage EU member states to use the legal principle of universal jurisdiction to prosecute those committing heinous abuses and violations of international humanitarian law as a blow against impunity and a warning to would-be violators of humanitarian law.
- Use the European Humanitarian Forum in January 2022 as a key moment to create momentum around these issues, including galvanising EU member states and other international actors’ support for rebooting global systems designed to protect the most vulnerable.