The news that’s not used: 6 forgotten humanitarian crises to know in 2023

January 15, 2023
Photo by Ed Ram

Not every humanitarian crisis makes the front page, but it doesn’t mean they’re any less dire.

There is no shortage of humanitarian emergencies in 2023. But for many crises, the issues remain long after the news cameras leave — if they ever show up in the first place. 

These are the stories that fell off the front page as they became more complex, and stories that have yet to make it to the front page at all. More importantly: They are, in the end, emergencies that affect millions of people. Based on humanitarian data from UNOCHA’s 2023 Global Humanitarian Overview, here are 6 forgotten humanitarian crises. 

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What is a humanitarian crisis?

First, let’s get on the same page with one key definition: The United Nations’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) defines a humanitarian crisis as “a singular event or a series of events that are threatening in terms of health, safety or well-being of a community or large group of people.”

1. Sudan

After months of civilian protest in 2019, a transitional government formed and gave many in Sudan hope for economic and social reform. However, nearly four years later, instability remains a fact of life in the country. In some cases, this has manifested into violence. According to UNOCHA, an estimated 300,000 people were displaced by conflict in 2022 — with nearly 33,000 displaced in November alone due to fighting in West Kordofan and Central Darfur. 

Despite the iconic images that came out of 2019’s protests, the crisis in Sudan has only gotten worse since it last made international front-page news. 15.8 million Sudanese require humanitarian assistance — more than a 10% increase in need compared to the end of 2021. That’s one out of every three Sudanese requiring assistance to meet their most basic needs. 

Young Taiba Elherika collect seeds with her grandmother from Concern Worldwide distribution centre in West Kordofan State. The Sudan Humanitarian Fund supported purchase of the seeds. (Photo: Sudan Humanitarian Fund/Concern Worldwide)

2. South Sudan

Since gaining independence in 2011, South Sudan has faced constant turbulence and violence, with needs increasing due to climate change. The  youngest country’s hopes for peace were under renewed threat in 2022, when parties to the 2018 Revitalised Peace Agreement for South Sudan agreed to an additional two-year extension for transitional governance arrangements. This also postponed elections until late 2024.

This added uncertainty has given way to renewed violence in the country, with humanitarian needs rising in proportion and leaving 9.4 million requiring humanitarian assistance. In September, Yasmin Sooka, Chairperson of the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan said: “Without these steps [towards peace and democracy], we are likely to see millions more South Sudanese displaced or crossing borders, creating havoc for neighboring countries and aid agencies.” 

3. Haiti

We’ve seen the occasional headlines from Haiti — including the assassination of president Jovenel Moïse in 2021 and the magnitude-7.2–earthquake that hit the country later that same summer, and the recent increase in cholera cases as part of the larger global outbreak. However, the issues within Haiti go far beyond these headlines, and to rely on these news bites alone discounts some of the country’s biggest issues, including violence in Port-au-Prince and the fact that it is now one of the top five food-insecure countries in the world. For the first time in the country’s history, a large portion of its population is at risk of famine, and 5.2 million people require humanitarian assistance. 

4. Central African Republic

The Central African Republic crisis turned 10 last year — an inauspicious milestone for a protracted conflict that remains one of the world’s forgotten humanitarian crises. Over half of the country’s population — 3.4 million people — require humanitarian assistance. As the UN puts it: “In the past five years, there have never been as many people in humanitarian distress in the Central African Republic as today.” 

One in four Central Africans have been displaced due to violence, either internally or as refugees in neighboring countries. Those who remain in-country face additional threats like gender-based violence (with a new incident reported every hour), forced labor and conscription for children, and a shortage of basic needs including water, food, and education.

Hermine prepares a meal of amaranth leaves, peanut paste and plantain after a cookery demonstration with her neighbor, as part of Concern’s programming in Central African Republic. Over half of the country’s population require humanitarian assistance, including food aid. (Photo: Chris de Bode)

5. Burundi

In 2015, political instability in Burundi turned violent, further exacerbated by that year’s political elections. As unrest and conflict abated, the pandemic and the country’s next election caused some additional stress in 2020. Burundi is an example of a crisis that has abated, but with hundreds of thousands Burundian refugees now beginning to repatriate, the situation is far from over. While need has gone down by half since its highest point in 2018, 1.8 million Burundians still require humanitarian assistance and support as they return home and readjust. 

Hunger is one main concern, as 90% of Burundians rely on agriculture for their livelihoods and are facing an extended hunger season following inflated costs of goods, low supplies, and fewer opportunities for work. 

Mother-of-five Francine Fitina is a Care Group Volunteer in Cibitoke province, Burundi. Her care group role is part of the program “Reducing Malnutrition and its Underlying Causes for Children Under-5 in Burundi,” funded by UKAID Match and implemented by Concern Worldwide. (Photo: Concern Worldwide)

6. The Rohingya 

Five years in, the Rohingya crisis has no end in sight, with the stateless Rohingya people unable to return to their homes in Rakhine State and living in tenuous and temporary circumstances in neighboring Bangladesh. The UN estimates that 1.5 million Rohingya require humanitarian assistance, and while basic needs are being met, they still face an uncertain future. 

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.