Even before the recent headlines from Ukraine, conflict has been a fact of life in many of the communities where Concern works. It’s also a leading cause of poverty as well as hunger. Here are the stories behind eight countries in conflict in 2022, and how Concern is responding to the needs of civilians most severely impacted by the violence.
Despite development advances in recent years, Afghanistan remains an extremely volatile and fragile country following nearly four decades of instability. Violence continues to undermine the country’s development, with almost two thirds of the Afghan population living in areas directly affected by conflict, prompting ongoing internal displacement that erodes people’s resources and coping mechanisms over time. These challenges are compounded by the limited capacity of communities, government and humanitarian actors to withstand the impact of repeated natural disasters including floods, landslides, earthquakes, and drought.
Since 2009, the Council on Foreign Relations estimates 111,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan. Before the US military withdrew from the country last year, over 18 million people required humanitarian aid — including over 3 million children. This represented a doubling of the number of people who required assistance since January, 2020.
The Afghanistan Conflict: What Concern is doing
Concern has years of experience in complex crises and are again drawing on it to ensure our staff and the communities we work with are protected and that, as an organization, we do no harm in our efforts to stay and deliver. As long as our staff and facilities are safe and secure, we remain committed to reaching those left furthest behind.
Alongside our humanitarian response, Concern continues to respond to longer-term development needs in Afghanistan through primary education and by strengthening livelihoods. Concern continues to support the women of Afghanistan through a new program launched in April 2021 which seeks to advance women’s economic empowerment and address poverty through agri-business development in areas including dairy, saffron, and almond production.
Since early 2011, a civil conflict in Syria has resulted in enormous suffering for millions of people. 11.5 million people — nearly half of the country’s estimated pre-war population — have been displaced, many living as refugees in neighboring countries.
Inside Syria, there are 13.4 million people (out of a total 17.5 million) in need of humanitarian assistance. Once a country with a thriving middle class, 83% of Syrians now live below the poverty line — and are dealing with far worse stressors than economics.
By many accounts from those still living in the country, the violence of conflict is not confined to bombing, missile attacks, and the destruction of cities and infrastructure. Rather, it has seeped into every aspect of Syrian life. Many civilians who have spoken with Concern say that they don’t feel safe or secure in any environment — including their own homes. Personal security, now an alien feeling, is no longer taken for granted. This is especially true for women and girls.
The Syria Crisis: What Concern is doing
Concern Worldwide has been responding to the crisis in Syria since 2013. Our teams on the ground are providing food and non-food items, including plastic sheeting, floor mats, solar lights, and blankets. Maintaining a very rapid emergency response, our turnaround time is generally 2 days for assessment and distribution.
Our areas of focus in Syria include supporting food security and livelihoods, with cash and food voucher support distributed to over 337,000 people in just one year. We also work towards delivering child-friendly spaces, self-healing and learning spaces, and gender-based violence prevention, as well as education for Syrian children in informal centers. Finally, our water, sanitation, and hygiene assistance includes hygiene kit distribution, rehabilitating water systems, emergency water trucking, hygiene promotion, and vector control.
The beginning of the ongoing Somali Civil War has been contested, although many organizations (including the UN) place it at 1991. Other experts argue that it started as many as 10 years earlier, which gives you an idea of how long the country has faced violence and insecurity, regardless of how it’s been labeled.
Despite a number of ongoing crises in Somalia, the violence and brutality of conflict is the crisis that arches over all the others. Civilian casualties due to violence aren’t the biggest killer, however. Three decades of instability has weakened the country’s health system and undermined other key aspects of its infrastructure, leaving 7.7 million people in need of humanitarian aid — over 5 million of whom are children. Huge portions of the country are not under government control.
As Abdi Rashid Haji-Nur explains: “Operationally, it is difficult for national and international humanitarian agencies to deliver services to people in the different parts of the country. As long as there is absence of efforts to contain and to deescalate those tensions and conflicts, we will be having challenges in terms of having access.” Making matters worse is the potential that other crises have to exacerbate tensions within the country.
The Somali Civil War: What Concern is doing
Concern has been in Somalia for 35 years. Our emergency team provides a multi-sector response to drought, flood and displacement-affected households across the country. A key pillar of our response is unconditional cash transfers delivered through mobile phones, which enable families to quickly receive money to buy what they most need from local markets to feed their family and meet other basic needs such as healthcare.
Additionally, we support Emergency Education classes for vulnerable children who would otherwise miss out on the chance of going to school. We run clinics providing basic health and nutrition screening and treatment, with particular focus on young children and their mothers and we ensure access to toilet facilities as well as safe water for drinking, household, and agricultural use through constructing pipelines and water catchment dams, reservoirs and tanks. Families newly arriving into camps for displaced people receive a kit of items including cooking sets, hygiene items, and materials to construct a shelter.
4. Burkina Faso & The Sahel
A decade of armed conflict in the western Sahel region of Africa has resulted in a deteriorating humanitarian situation across Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger. Crisis knows no borders, and what began as violence in Mali in January of 2012 has now resulted in attacks across the region, which surged in 2021 and, according to UNOCHA estimated, displaced 500,000 people in one year alone.
Currently, UNOCHA estimates 3.5 million people require humanitarian aid, and UNICEF estimates 2.6 million children require assistance. Despite going on for over a decade, the violence has escalated in the last year due to broken ceasefires and renewed hostilities. Humanitarian estimates suggest that the conflict will grow worse in 2022.
The Sahel Crisis: What Concern is doing
Concern has been in Niger for nearly 20 years, and began working in Burkina Faso in 2020. In Niger, our Education in Emergencies program is currently running in the regions of Tahoua, Tillabéri, and Diffa and aims to preserve the right to education in armed conflict situations. We’re improving access to school and learning conditions for pupils through construction and rehabilitation of classrooms and latrines. We also support teachers through capacity building to improve their pedagogic skills and to help them provide a better quality education. Given the context, we also work closely with communities to support them in the creation of a safe and protective learning environment.
Our Emergency Response program in Burkina Faso, 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. In our first year, we provided 500 families (both members of the internally-displaced and host communities) with unconditional, multi-purpose cash transfers combined with hygiene campaigns. We’ve also worked with 200 additional families on a cash-for-work program that improves livelihoods as well as local sanitation infrastructure.
5. Democratic Republic of Congo
The scene for one of the worst-ever civil wars in African history, the Democratic Republic of Congo has moved from the national conflict of the late 1990s to a series of smaller, localized conflicts focused in specific regions and centered on land, resources, and power. The impact of King Leopold II of Belgium’s bloody colonization of the country is still felt in this ongoing series of violent conflicts.
While conflict has become more localized, that does not lessen its damage. Sporadic waves of fighting across many parts of the country make the DRC a complex and challenging humanitarian situation. Over 5 million Congolese people are internally displaced within the country, representing the third largest population of internally displaced people (IDPs) in the world. In the first half of 2020 alone, there were an estimated 1,427,000 new displacements associated with conflict. Latest UNOCHA estimates place the number of Congolese requiring humanitarian assistance at over 22 million.
The DRC Conflict: What Concern is doing
Concern has been active in the Democratic Republic of Congo for over a quarter of a century, with programs built around health and nutrition, livelihoods and agriculture, and water, sanitation, and hygiene. In response to deepening humanitarian needs across the country, we are implementing emergency and development programming in North Kivu and Tanganyika.
Last year, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, we worked with over 140,000 people displaced by the ongoing crisis to improve their living conditions and their livelihoods.
6. Central African Republic
The Central African Republic Civil War turns 10 in 2022, but it’s only the latest in a series of clashes since the country gained independence from France in 1960. What began in 2012 as an insurgency led by Séléka paramilitary forces has resulted in heightened ethnic and religious tensions and a weakened infrastructure and social support system for nearly 5 million people. The Central African Republic borders both the DRC (see above) and South Sudan (see below), which means that, as the situation continues to deteriorate in-country, the ramifications of conflict spill out into neighboring countries, exacerbating their own conflicts and leaving an entire region in dire straits.
The Central African Republic Civil War: What Concern is doing
Concern entered the Central African Republic in 2014 with an overall goal of providing humanitarian assistance and (where possible) long-term development strategies in conflict-affected communities. We implement both emergency and resilience programming to reduce hunger and to strengthen livelihoods for the most vulnerable communities. Through our emergency program in Ouaka last year, 2,501 people took part in Cash-for-Work activities. This work made nearly 100 miles of road more accessible to vehicles, and injected nearly $150,000 into the local economy.
However, humanitarian access in CAR has deteriorated over the last year due to escalating conflict. “Less than 40% of NGO operations are currently continuing due to a lack of safe access,” Concern’s Country Director Elise Ponson said in 2021. “This is in a country where almost all basic services such as healthcare, education and food assistance outside of the capital are provided by NGOs.” Concern is continuing to maintain its operation in one town, but it is very difficult to assess the scale of the humanitarian needs in most rural areas as it is not safe to travel by road.
7. South Sudan
Prior to the outbreak of conflict in December 2013, there was reason to be hopeful about the future of South Sudan. Not only had secession been peaceful, but the country was also host to rich oil fields. Many were optimistic that 2013 would be a year of development and progress. Instead, the conflict — which has led to breakdowns in social services and protection — continues to have severe consequences for a country where human development ranks among the worst in the world.
The conflict rapidly took on an ethnic dimension, which helped to displace over 4 million South Sudanese. This includes over 34,000 living in overcrowded protection of civilian (POC) sites on UN bases. The desperate and immediate needs in these POC sites have been overwhelming, especially as the rapid onset of the crisis required some of the first humanitarian respondents to provide lifesaving services inside a military base — an unlikely combination.
In February 2020, the establishment of the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) marked a step forward in South Sudan’s peace process. However, implementation of the peace deal has been delayed, and violence has spiked in its absence.
The South Sudan crisis: What Concern is doing
Concern has been in South Sudan since the beginning — and then some. Supporting women and children during the conflict has been key for our work, especially as the country has survived one famine and is threatened with another one as of 2022.
Concern works closely with communities in and out of POC sites, and uses the Community Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) approach to address hunger in South Sudan. We provide training to government health staff. We have mobile sites to reach remote communities. We provide blanket and targeted supplementary feeding programs to address moderate acute malnutrition and therapeutic feeding programs to address severe acute malnutrition.
Concern also supports the establishment of mother support groups, and 49 health facilities that work to deliver lifesaving interventions and supports communities in implementing integrated Community Case Management (iCCM) of malaria, pneumonia, and diarrhea to ensure that children can receive treatment for the three major killer diseases.
An eight-year crisis in eastern Ukraine has become a major conflict in just the last few weeks. On February 21, 2022, nearly eight years to the day following a military action in Crimea, the Russian Federation officially recognized the independence of two non-government-controlled areas in Ukraine along the Russian border, Donetsk and Luhansk. Two days later, Ukraine declared a nationwide state of emergency. On February 24, the Russian Federation announced a full-scale military operation.
Within the first 24 hours of fighting, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner (OHCHR) reported 240 civilian casualties, including 34 deaths. The violence has not abated, and intense fighting has spread across the country and into its capital of Kyiv. Within the first week, more than 1 million Ukrainian refugees have entered neighboring countries like Poland. Of those who remain in the country, including its capital of Kyiv, hundreds of thousands have lost electricity and water at home due to the major damage inflicted on civilian infrastructure.
The Ukraine Crisis: What Concern is doing
Concern deployed a small emergency response team to Krakow, Poland, to conduct an initial assessment of the situation on February 28, 2022. This will help us to determine a complete response to the rapidly-evolving situation. We are working in tandem with local organizations, our Alliance2015 partners, and the UN.
“Humanitarian needs are escalating as hundreds of thousands seek safety across borders. With the support of the public, we are there to help those in need,” says Concern Worldwide CEO Dominic MacSorley said. “We urge you to support our appeal for funding in any way you can.”
Concern’s Emergency Fund is 100% designated to fund emergencies, including the crisis in Ukraine, and can be deployed rapidly when days or even hours make all the difference.
Concern has already earmarked over $220,000 for Ukraine, but that is a fraction of what will be needed to address the needs of the millions seeking refuge.