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A Pakistani family affected by the 2022 floods stand outside their temporary shelter in Mirpur Khas districtA Pakistani family affected by the 2022 floods stand outside their temporary shelter in Mirpur Khas districtA Pakistani family affected by the 2022 floods stand outside their temporary shelter in Mirpur Khas district

8 of the worst humanitarian crises to know in 2023

8 of the worst humanitarian crises to know in 2023
Story10 March 2023

Updated annually, here's what to know about humanitarian crises in 2023.

At the end of 2019, we presented 5 of the worst humanitarian crises to know in 2020 — just before the onset of one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises in recent history. 

Since then, our annual ranking of humanitarian crises (which in itself is a tricky term, more on which below) has reflected the difficulties added by COVID-19, as well as protracted conflict, climate change, and other factors that have led to a record number of complex humanitarian emergencies. 

“Ranking” humanitarian crises isn’t as easy or as straightforward as the title makes it seem. We’re basing this list on figures provided by UNOCHA’s 2023 Global Humanitarian Overview, which factors in the number of people in need of assistance, funding needed to meet that need, and the level of funding met for the year ahead.

1. The Horn of Africa

The current crisis in the Horn of Africa has left 36.4 million people across Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Five consecutive failed rains have left the region facing the worst drought in four decades and extreme levels of hunger. The next rainy season, beginning in March of 2023, is also expected to fail. 

A Kenyan pastoralist with his camels near North Horr in Marsabit
Molu Elema, 56, with his camels near North Horr in Marsabit, Kenya. (Photo: Ed Ram/Concern Worldwide)

How did it get so bad?

The Horn of Africa crisis is an example of what happens when early warning signs are ignored and ongoing emergencies remain unresolved. For many in this region, the latest droughts are just one of several issues that, taken together, have decimated crops, livestock, incomes, and food security. For decades, Somalia has faced a cycle of crisis that touches on violence, displacement, hunger, and climate change.  A lack of response from the international community has left the current emergencies across these three countries under-funded. 

“Sadly, we have now reached a point where what will shock us or get our attention are images of emaciated babies and animal carcasses,” says Amina Abdulla, Concern’s Regional Director for the Horn of Africa. “And that — I am sorry to say — is utterly repugnant.”

What’s being done

With a range of services, Concern Worldwide has reached 2.5 million people in the Horn of Africa — including over 100,000 children supported through nutrition interventions as part of our emergency response to the drought. In April 2022, we scaled up operations to reach an additional 1.5 million people.

Abdulla adds that our country teams in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia — as well as the neighbouring countries of Sudan and South Sudan (both of which are also affected by this drought) — are planning a long-term recovery response to cover 2022 and 2023. “We need to protect lives and assets and help communities prepare for the next rainy season in April 2023.”

2. The Sahel

Ongoing violence in the Sahel escalated in 2022, with countries like Burkina Faso and Niger affected by new levels of conflict and insecurity. UN experts estimate that the situation will worsen in 2023, which OCHA has described as “the worst humanitarian needs in years.” Taking into account the full region — which includes  Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Niger and Nigeria — OCHA estimates approximately 34.8 million people require humanitarian assistance, and that an additional 3 million will require support this year. 

Nigerien woman prepares her land for the beginning of the rainy season with her infant daughter on her back
Mme Sadi Oumale, her daughter Laïla (2) on her land with her 2 sons Viliamini (the oldest), and Saïlou near Village of Allela, Niger. There’s not much else to do but to prepare her field for the beginning of the rainy season. (Photo: Ollivier Girard/Concern Worldwide)

How did it get so bad?

Ongoing conflict in the Sahel took a turn for the worse beginning in 2018, with increasing numbers of both non-state armed groups and security incidents. Additionally, the Sahel is another region hit hard by the climate crisis, which has had a devastating effect for residents of these countries — most of whom rely on agriculture for their food and livelihoods. 

What’s being done

Concern works in several countries across the Sahel, including Chad and Niger. We added a new country to our work in 2021 when we began responding to  the rapidly-evolving humanitarian crisis in Burkina Faso. Our Emergency Response program, in partnership with Alliance2015 members, is designed to improve access to essential, quality health and nutrition services that are able to adapt to the evolving nature of this crisis.

3. Democratic Republic of Congo

Increased violence in 2022 has added to a series of emergencies that make up the decades-long humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 27 million Congolese require humanitarian assistance — nearly a 38% increase in need compared to last year.

Woman selling vegetables and produce at a market in Manono Territory, DRC
Francoise Kakuji, 70, displays her vegetables for sale at the central market of the town of Manono, Tanganyika Province, DRC. Products grown on rural farmland as part of Concern Worldwide’s Food for Peace programme are often destined to be transported to, and sold at this market.

How did it get so bad?

Like other countries on this list, the recent history of the DRC has seen oppression, neglect, and unrest. The country suffered especially under Belgian colonial rule in the 19th Century and was set up for failure when it gained independence in 1960. Even with peace officially declared, violence has not gone away. Outbreaks of armed conflict have been triggered by land, natural resources, and ethnic disputes. 

What’s being done

Concern began working in the DRC when it was still known as Zaire. Since the late 1990s, we’ve focused much of our efforts on long-term development, building schools and health centres, training teachers and health volunteers, and supporting agriculture and livelihood projects. We’ve also led efforts to roll out new water and sanitation infrastructures, especially in provinces that have struggled to recover from two civil wars. 

4. Afghanistan

Afghanistan has been caught in conflict since 1978, meaning that several generations of Afghans have never known life without conflict and political instability. The current humanitarian situation in Afghanistan has left 24.1 million Afghans in need of humanitarian assistance, including 15.3 million children. 

Humanitarian response to June 2022 earthquake in Afghanistan
As part of our initial response to the June, 2022 earthquake in Afghanistan, Concern distributed 270 NFI kits, 467 dignity kits, 293 tents and 44 blankets from prepositioned stocks.

How did it get so bad?

Conflict stresses a nation’s infrastructure and economy. After 45 years of conflict, those stresses become greater than the sum of their parts. The economic impacts of conflict and crisis have left job opportunities low and debts high, leaving families in even more compromised situations following events like the June 2022 earthquake — the deadliest on record since 1998. 

What’s being done

Concern first entered Afghanistan in 1998 following its last major earthquake, and we’ve been there ever since. Since 2020, we’ve been the UN's chosen partner for the emergency response to displacement in the northeastern area of the country. We are also an implementing partner of the Citizen’s Charter Afghanistan Project to help improve local infrastructure, especially to benefit socially-marginalised groups.

5. Yemen

The Yemeni Civil War has, according to one UN estimate, has left nearly 80% of the country’s population in need of some form of assistance, and has damaged food systems, local infrastructure, the economy, and education prospects. 21.6 million people require humanitarian assistance. 12.9 million are children. 

How did it get so bad?

Violence in Yemen escalated sharply in March 2015, escalating unemployment, food insecurity, and insecurity for civilians. The destabilising effects of this conflict has also made it that much harder to get humanitarian aid into the country.

What’s being done

Concern doesn’t have a formal program in Yemen. However, in response to the growing needs in the country, we partnered with fellow NGO ACTED (Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development) several years ago  to design a program that focused on providing water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services, along with some economic support to help with immediate needs.

6. Pakistan

The level of severity in Pakistan escalated in 2022 due in large part to last year’s floods, which affected 33 million people — roughly one out of every seven people in the country. The rains were the worst the country has faced since it began recording climate data in 1918. “The magnitude and scale of the destruction to the country cannot be underestimated,” said Sherzada Khan, Concern’s acting Country Director for Pakistan, last August. “We are responding to a very serious humanitarian situation.” 

Women affected by the 2022 floods in Pakistan carrying drinking water through Jacobabad
Women in flood-affected Jacobabad, Pakistan, carry drinking water on their heads. (Photo: Ingenious Captures/Concern Worldwide)

How did it get so bad?

The 2022 floods weren’t an isolated incident in Pakistan, which is one of the countries most affected by climate change. Temperatures in the Sindh city of Jacobabad exceeded 52º C in the summer of 2021. Likewise, the World Bank has named the city of Karachi a “climate hot spot.” 

Some of these issues can be traced back to Pakistan’s history of colonialism and political instability. Combined with other issues around violence and infrastructure, these risks have left many Pakistanis — especially in the country’s rural areas — facing periodic displacement, hunger, water stress, and poverty.  The UN estimates that 20.6 million people are in need. 

What’s being done

Having worked in Pakistan for over 20 years, Concern’s teams are currently responding to the continued needs of those affected by the 2022 floods in the provinces of Balochistan, Sindh, and Punjab. Our relief packages include cash transfers that enable extremely-vulnerable families to buy the essentials that they need most, as well as hygiene and dignity kits.

Through the USAID-funded Responding to Pakistan’s Internally Displaced (RAPID) program, Concern also provides grants to local and international NGOs responding to the humanitarian needs after these kinds of disasters. With an established network of organisations, the program allows for funds to get where they need to go most, often in as little as two days.

7. Ukraine

On February 24, 2022, a long-simmering crisis in Ukraine escalated into violence with devastating impact. By mid-March, it became the site of one of the world’s largest refugee crises, with 7.9 million Ukrainians displaced abroad as refugees, and an additional 6.5 million displaced internally. 

As this renewed conflict passed the one-year mark in February, it also entered what Concern’s Head of Emergency Operations, Ros O’Sullivan, describes as a “more stark” situation with winter conditions and both electricity and fuel shortages. UNOCHA estimates that 17.7 million people in Ukraine require humanitarian assistance. 

Valentina stays in one of collective centres for displaced people in Selydove. Photo: PiN/Concern Worldwide
Valentina stays in one of collective centres for displaced people in Selydove. Photo: PiN/Concern Worldwide

How did it get so bad?

An armed conflict in eastern Ukraine began in Crimea in 2014, leaving people in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions facing nearly a decade of insecurity (compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic).

What’s being done

Concern began responding immediately to the crisis in Ukraine, and is partnered with German NGO Welthungerhilfe and Italian organisation Cesvi to operate a joint emergency response from the centre of the country, bringing supplies and cash to communities in the eastern and southern regions (both of which are host to large numbers of displaced Ukrainians). 

Concern is also supporting some of the 4,000 special winter centres announced by the government in December, 2022 to provide heat, warmth, food, and charging points in areas where the electricity supply has been impacted.

8. Syria

What began as a peaceful protest in 2011 has now become more than a decade of crisis in Syria — as well as one of the largest refugee crises in the world. The violence has not stopped, and millions of Syrians are displaced abroad (often with limited legal rights, resources, and language skills). More than 6.8 million Syrians are internally displaced, and 15.3 million require humanitarian aid — the highest amount of need since the conflict began. Syria is also one of the epicentres of the current cholera outbreak, one of the largest in recent history. 

Concern staff distribute supplies among Syrian refugees in Lebanon
Concern staff distribute supplies among Syrian refugees in Lebanon. (Photo: Gavin Douglas/ Concern Worldwide)

How did it get so bad?

Much like Yemen, Syria has spent much of the last century in and out of conflict and political insecurity. The latest influx began during the country’s Arab Spring protests in 2011, which gave way to an ongoing civil war, with the involvement of other nations and factions growing over the years. Regardless of allegiance, so much violence means that civilians are paying the ultimate price, either with their lives or by abandoning their homes for life in exile.

What’s being done

Concern has been responding in Syria since 2013, and also has programs active in Lebanon, Türkiye, and Iraq. In and outside of Syria, we are heavily focused on supporting women and children, many of whom suffer from exposure to violence and/or multiple displacements.

Concern’s emergency response to humanitarian crises

Last year, Concern responded to 66 emergencies in 23 countries, reaching 17.8 million people. Not each of these emergencies was a full humanitarian crisis, but in each context our goal remains the same: fulfill our humanitarian mandate.

When an emergency strikes, we seek out the poorest and hardest-to-reach communities to meet their immediate needs, and work with them to design innovative, fast and effective responses. We stay with them to help rebuild their lives and to ensure that they are better able to cope with future crises. Your support allows us to do this vital work.

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