A record new $51.5 billion United Nations appeal for humanitarian funding in 2023 is ringing alarm bells about the world’s humanitarian needs. They are turning into a quicksand sucking in aid donors fighting to keep their heads above numerous crises including the Ukraine war.
UN chief Antonio Guterres said the record funding requirement followed a “year of extremes” and was an only “source of hope for millions of people in desperate need”. The UN appeal, 25% higher than this year, is urgently needed to help 230 million of the world’s most vulnerable people in nearly 70 countries. This total number is exploding and is 65 million more than in 2022.
Martin Griffiths, the UN’s humanitarian relief chief, lamented that $51.5 billion is “a phenomenal number, and it’s a depressing number.” Needs are “shockingly high” because “we’ve been by smitten by the war in Ukraine, by COVID-19, and by climate…I fear that 2023 is going to be an acceleration of all those trends.”
He expected it to be “very difficult” to achieve the full amount from donors. For instance, this year’s humanitarian aid appeal is only 47 per cent funded – a sharp drop from earlier years where funding levels used to reach 60 to 65 per cent.
At least “222 million people … will face acute food insecurity in 53 countries by the end of this year”, Griffiths said. Five countries “are already experiencing what we call famine-like conditions, where we can confidently and unhappily say that people are dying as a result – and it tends to be children – of displacement, food insecurity, lack of food, starvation.”
In 2023, 45 million people in 37 countries risk starvation, according to the UN’s Global Humanitarian Overview. It emphasized that vulnerable communities face pressure on several fronts including health, as medical providers continue to struggle to recover after COVID-19, while afflictions like mpox (monkeypox) and other vector-borne diseases continue alongside outbreaks of Ebola and cholera.
Climate change is also a significant factor and several countries have been hit by lethal droughts and floods, from Pakistan to the Horn of Africa. In addition, the war in Ukraine had “turned a part of Europe into a battlefield”. More than 103 million people are now displaced worldwide.
This humanitarian aid appeal brings together UN forecasts discussed with governments about the scale of their emergency needs in 2023. It excludes funding needs of other non-UN groups like the global Red Cross and independent non-governmental organizations such as Doctors without Frontiers. On this broader level about 339 million people are estimated to need humanitarian aid but UN-affiliated aid groups serve only some of them.
Most of the people in need are in developing countries, mainly in the poorest regions of Africa. The ability of their governments to handle emergency needs is almost non-existent. Economic uncertainties and distress are making it harder for local communities to adapt or recover because of inflation, rising debt and higher fuel and food prices. Threats to public health are also increasing in the aftermath of COVID-19 and impacts of climate change.
This dire scenario of global humanitarian needs is not an exaggeration. Failure to significantly alleviate the needs can only result in more social unrest in poor countries and empower anti-American and anti-European extremists groups to recruit more successfully.