Still in Crisis: Five Humanitarian Disasters that Deserve Our Attention

By Sarah Charles, Assistant to the Administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance

As the war in Ukraine continues to dominate the 24-hour news cycle, we cannot lose sight of other major crises around the world — from conflict in Yemen to drought in the Horn of Africa. We must not forget about the tens of millions of people around the globe who need humanitarian assistance. Sustained attention from the international community is critical to meeting these needs. Here are five places where we are continuing to make a difference.

Northern Ethiopia

The crisis in northern Ethiopia remains one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. In Tigray alone, more than 90 percent of people need aid. USAID partner the World Food Program distributed food to people in the hard-to-access rural area of Adi Millen, where the nearest town is over 35 kilometers away. Photo: WFP

After a year and a half of conflict in northern Ethiopia, as many as one million people may experience famine-like conditions across the Afar, Amhara, and Tigray regions by June — including 700,000 people in Tigray alone. After three and a half months without any humanitarian supplies reaching Tigray by road, two convoys of humanitarian trucks carrying food and nutrition supplies for 100,000 people successfully reached Tigray and Afar by road, with USAID support.

This recent development builds on other gains, including the expansion of humanitarian aid delivered by air and a recent truce between the Ethiopian government and Tigray regional authorities. USAID and our partners continue to scale up assistance to Ethiopians in need in Afar and Amhara, but in Tigray significant and sustained humanitarian access by road is required to meet the enormous needs across the region.

Last year, USAID provided more than 400,000 metric tons of food assistance in northern Ethiopia, aiming to reach an estimated 5.2 million people. However, prolonged systematic obstruction by the Government of Ethiopia, and ongoing conflict prevented food assistance from reaching those in need at the scale needed to avert dire food insecurity. Photos: WFP, World Vision


A child walks through the Al Gamalia neighborhood of Taiz, a city in southwestern Yemen. This location is just two kilometer from the current frontline that divides the city today. Photo: Giles Clarke/UN OCHA

Yemenis are caught in one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises as brutal conflict enters its eighth year. With an economy in tatters, a staggering two-thirds of Yemenis — some 23.4 million people — rely on humanitarian aid to meet their basic needs, including more than two million children at risk of life-threatening malnutrition. The latest UN assessment projects that, absent immediate donor funding, the number of people experiencing famine could increase five-fold by June.

To meet these immense and growing needs, USAID has announced more than $561 million in life-saving aid for Yemen’s most vulnerable people this year–the largest single donation made at the donor pledging event in March. This funding will help provide food assistance, medical care and supplies, safe drinking water, treatment for malnourished children, and hygiene kits. Our assistance will reach more than 17 million people in need. USAID and our partners remain committed to helping the Yemeni people amid diplomatic efforts to find a durable resolution to this terrible conflict.

(Left) Two-months old Abdullah is held by nurse Fazal before being weighed and measured. He suffers from severe acute malnutrition and is the youngest of nine children. (Right) A displaced women takes water from a IOM-donated container in a recently-built IDP settlement near Marib. Many of these recently-displaced residents escaped fighting in the hills to the west of Marib and arrived in the last few months of 2020. Photos: Giles Clarke/UN OCHA


USAID partner the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has resumed the provision of health services to vulnerable Afghans in Herat, Kandahar, Nimroz & Ghor. This includes trauma care, COVID response, mental health services, and reproductive, maternal and child care. Photo: IOM

In Afghanistan, more than 24 million people need immediate humanitarian support. Nearly nine million people are likely facing extreme hunger in a crisis so grave that some are resorting to drastic measures just to feed their families. We continue to see multiple disease outbreaks, including acute watery diarrhea, COVID-19, dengue fever, polio, malaria, and now a deadly measles outbreak with 80 percent of cases affecting children five years and younger. Despite rising humanitarian needs, donor contributions are falling.

To help keep focus on this ongoing crisis, the United States announced nearly $204 million in life-saving aid just last month, providing more than $4.6 billion in support since 2002, including more than $719 million since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021. This funding will help meet critical healthcare needs, address the increasing vulnerabilities of women and girls by providing support for survivors of gender-based violence, and more. Humanitarian assistance is a critical lifeline for millions. Immediate, large-scale humanitarian intervention as well as long-term development solutions are needed to ensure conditions for the Afghan people do not further deteriorate.

The conflict in Afghanistan continues to have a devastating impact on women and children. According to the UN, since the start of this year, 550 Afghan children have been killed and 1,400 injured. Photo: UNICEF

Horn of Africa

Drought affected livestock walk to a river side in Adadle district, Biyolow Kebele in Somali region of Ethiopia. Photo: Michael Tewelde/WFP

Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia–known as the Horn of Africa–are in the midst of a historic and unprecedented drought–one of the devastating results of climate change. Parts of the Horn of Africa, we are seeing the driest conditions on record. People have faced two straight years of inadequate rainfall to support basic water, agriculture, and livestock needs, the impact of which is devastating for a population heavily dependent on crops and livestock for food and income. Already 1.5 million livestock have died. Crops are nearly nonexistent. In some areas, conflict has broken out over the scarce resources.

We just announced USAID is providing an additional nearly $114 million to meet the needs of people struggling to meet their basic needs amidst the drought, and more support is on the way. This vital assistance, which is being provided through UN agencies, NGOs, and local implementing partners, includes lifesaving food, safe water, and health care in Ethiopia; food, nutrition, safe water, sanitation, and hygiene in Kenya; and emergency food and nutrition and support for humanitarian coordination in Somalia. At a conference in Geneva later this month, donors will have a chance to show their support for responding to this crisis. We call on all donors–including emerging donors like foundations and the private sector–to help fill the critical gaps in the emergency response to save lives.

(Left) In Kenya, where recurrent drought makes access to water an ongoing challenge, USAID partner World Vision constructed automated water kiosks (water ATMs) to help provide safe water. Photo: World Vision. (Right) USAID has partnered with UNICEF to support humanitarian programs in drought-affected communities, such as this child friendly space at the Kabasa IDP camp in Dolow, Somalia. Photo: Ismail Taxta/UNICEF


Women are seen outside a tent at a camp for people displaced from Dayr Az Zawr and its surroundings, near the town of al-Arishah in the northeastern Syrian province of Al Hasakah. Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP

Eleven years on, humanitarian needs in Syria are higher today than at any other point in the conflict. The senseless war has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, displaced over 13 million people, and continues to leave 12 million people without enough food to eat. Violence against civilians is on the rise in northwest Syria and in northeast Syria’s Al Hol camp, where tens of thousands of men, women, and children are already sheltering in makeshift tents.

These growing needs make the United Nations’ border-crossing mandate — allowing aid to be delivered directly to people in northwest Syria without passing through rebel-held areas — essential for the millions of Syrians who rely on aid to survive. And that’s not an exaggeration: In December 2021 alone, more than 700 trucks transported USAID commodities through Turkey’s Bab al-Hawa border crossing into northwest Syria, reaching approximately 2.4 million people. As we look ahead to the July reauthorization of the cross-border mandate, we are working closely with the international community to urge for uninterrupted and unimpeded access to aid to prevent a downward humanitarian spiral.

(Left) After 11 years of civil war, humanitarian needs in Syria have never been higher. 14.6 million people inside Syria need assistance, the highest number since the conflict started. Photo: UN OCHA (Right) USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance is supporting the UN World Food Program (WFP) and NGO partners to provide emergency food assistance to 5.5 million people inside Syria and 1.1 million refugees across Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey every month. Photo: WFP

These crises and many others continue to strain the capacity of the humanitarian community and donor governments to respond. But we cannot fail those who are simply struggling to survive. As the world’s largest donor of humanitarian assistance, the United States continues to urge new and long-time donors to scale up their assistance to meet these critical needs.

Sarah Charles is the Assistant to the Administrator of USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA), the U.S. government lead for international disaster response. With a mandate to save lives, alleviate human suffering, and reduce the impact of disasters, BHA monitors, mitigates, and responds to global hazards and humanitarian needs.

Learn more about USAID’s lifesaving humanitarian work.

Follow USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn for updates.




USAID's Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance saves lives on behalf of the American people.

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USAID Saves Lives

USAID Saves Lives

USAID's Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance saves lives on behalf of the American people.

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