Humanitarian action will be increasingly overwhelmed without real political commitment

December 1, 2020
Written by Makayla Palazzo

The latest UN report clearly demonstrates that, in the absence of increased political commitment by global powers, the humanitarian system will continue to struggle against an increasing wave of crises.

34 ongoing crises

2020 has been a challenging year for everyone around the globe, but it has been devastating for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. The 2021 Global Humanitarian Overview (GHO) was released by the United Nations today, and it projects increasingly complex and ever-more politically driven threats to those in need. 2020 saw political conflict, record numbers of displaced people, more severe and frequent natural disasters, a rise in global hunger, and the deepest global recession since the 1930s. These threats have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and are expected to continue or worsen in the next year if nothing is done to address them.

To respond to the 34 ongoing humanitarian crises worldwide, the 2021 GHO appeals for $35 billion to help 160 million people in need. But unless there is significant political action taken to prevent and end humanitarian crises, the lives of these 235 million people will remain largely unchanged. Humanitarian assistance is critical in meeting needs and saving lives, but can do little to address the problems that lead to needs in the first place. In the absence of political solutions, crises have become more complex, prolonged, and deadly each year, which translates to more people in need and higher costs for the global community to help them.

A Concern humanitarian distribtion in DRC

A Concern distribution of tarpaulins to displaced families in Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photo: Kieran McConville

Political power

The 2021 GHO presents an opportunity for donor governments to not only fund humanitarian appeals, but also commit leadership and political power toward creating solutions to crises. This could include a return to multilateralism after a year marked by departures from political compacts and global institutions. It could mean improved cooperation in the UN Security Council where deadlock has prevented or severely delayed the passage of important resolutions related to conflict. It could also include more international political pressure on governments known to be carrying out human rights violations and targeting civilians in combat.

“There are no humanitarian solutions to humanitarian problems”

A commitment to ending humanitarian crises is not only the morally “right” thing to do, but it benefits donor governments as well; global refugee and migration crises continue to cause political tension in donor countries, and as a global pandemic rages on, successfully overcoming COVID-19 will hinge on defeating it in the world’s poorest countries.

A mother and children in a Rohingya refugee camp

A scene from one of the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: Abir Abdullah/ Concern Worldwide

The former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, famously said “there are no humanitarian solutions to humanitarian problems.” She meant that humanitarian assistance isn’t going to solve the conflict and natural disasters that affect people’s lives. In the two decades since she spoke those words, humanitarian problems have only become worse, while political actors and institutions have mostly stood on the sidelines. The 2021 GHO and the unprecedented challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic can be the impetus for real change, if donor governments commit to the political solutions so desperately needed to solve the world’s humanitarian problems.

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