Still in Crisis: Five Humanitarian Disasters that Deserve Our Attention
How USAID is keeping focus on responding to rising humanitarian needs across the globe
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.
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.
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.
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.
Horn of Africa
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.
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.
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.