By Jaya Ramachandran
GENEVA (IDN) – As 2019 comes to a close, the United Nations has warned that climatic shocks, large infectious disease outbreaks and intensifying, protracted conflicts will constrain nearly 168 million – or one person in 45 on the planet – to seek humanitarian assistance and protection next year in crises spanning more than 50 countries. Also, millions of children across the globe will need life-saving support.
168 million people in need of assistance “is the highest figure in decades,” Mark Lowcock told journalists in Geneva, at the launch of the UN humanitarian affairs coordination office’s (OCHA) Global Humanitarian Overview on December 4. He availed of the occasion to appeal for nearly $29 billion in humanitarian aid from donors.
The UN relief chief said that the UN and partner organisations including the Red Cross and other non-governmental organisations “will be aiming to assist 109 million of the most vulnerable people”.
A disturbing trend, Mr. Lowcock explained, is that armed conflicts “are killing and maiming a record number of children”. More than 12,000 were killed or maimed in conflict in 2018, and 2019 has been worse, he said.
In addition, women and girls were at higher risk of sexual and gender-based violence than in the past, and one in five people living in conflict areas has a mental health condition, Mr. Lowcock said.
More communities had been affected by conflict and yet more “were affected by climate change-related events than we had projected”, Mr. Lowcock said, obliquely referring to more frequent drought, flooding and tropical cyclones that tend to disproportionately affect the poor and vulnerable.
“Thirteen of the 20 countries most vulnerable to climate change are places in which we have an inter-agency appeal,” he noted.
In terms of sheer scale, Yemen “is still going to be the world’s worst humanitarian crisis” in 2020 after nearly five years of war, the UN official maintained. “The number of people in need is expected to remain close to this year’s levels, that’s around 24 million people, 80 per cent of the population.”
Detailed in the Global Humanitarian Overview 2020, the appeal for Yemen is $3.2 billion.
Funding is also needed for a multitude of other protracted conflicts, including Afghanistan ($732 million for 9.4 million people), Burundi ($104 million for 1.7 million people), Iraq ($520 million for 4.1 million people), Syria ($3.3 billion for 11 million people) and the Central African Republic ($388 million for 2.6 million people), among others.
The Global Humanitarian Overview 2020 also takes into account a growing disregard for international humanitarian law. Mr. Lowcock highlighted nearly 800 attacks against health workers and healthcare facilities in the first nine months of 2019, which claimed 171 lives.
The unexpected scale of infectious disease outbreaks has also helped drive needs to unprecedented levels.
“In Africa, in the first three months of this year, there were 700 per cent more measles cases than in the same period last year”, Mr. Lowcock said, a likely reference to the more than 5,000 measles fatalities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since January.
Turning to Venezuela, where the funding requirement is $1.35 billion for 3.8 million people in 2020, needs are “substantially outstripping resources”, the UN official said.
A “substantial increase in humanitarian assistance for Venezuelans” was needed for those inside their country” and an approximate doubling of assistance for those who’ve left the country, Mr. Lowcock insisted.
“On current trends, our projections show that more than 200 million people could be in need of assistance by 2022,” he added.
The UNICEF’s emergency appeal poses the biggest task for donors yet – more than triple the funds requested in 2010.
The number of countries experiencing conflict is at its highest point since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989, noted the agency.
Children have become frontline targets, UNICEF said, resulting in death, serious injury and lasting trauma. Humanitarian emergencies also deprive children of health, nutrition, water and sanitation, education and other basic needs.
“Around the world today, we’re seeing the largest number of children in need of emergency assistance since we began record-keeping. One in four children lives in a country affected by conflict or disaster”, said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.
“Historic numbers of children forcibly uprooted from their homes urgently require protection and support. Conflict remains the major driver, while hunger, infectious disease, and extreme weather events related to climate change force millions of others to seek lifesaving aid.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 04 December 2019]
Photo: Displaced children stand in the shredded remains of tents in Abs settlement, Yemen, for internally displaced persons. Located just 40 km from the frontlines, the settlement is regularly damaged by passing sandstorms. Credit: OCHA/Giles Clarke
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.
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