7 of the Worst Humanitarian Crises to Know in 2022

December 22, 2021

Updated from our 2021 list, here’s what to know in the world of humanitarian response for 2022.

At the end of 2019, we presented 5 of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Most of these are complex crises that have been going on for years, if not decades. However, new crises emerge and an existing humanitarian crisis can turn complex if additional challenges come up. 

Building on the devastation of 2020, 2021 was not short on these kinds of challenges, with the domino effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, a worsening climate crisis, and conflict and political instability worsening in many countries. 

“Ranking” humanitarian crises is a tricky business, but based on humanitarian data from the European Commission Joint Research Centre and UNOCHA’s 2022 Global Humanitarian Overview, here are 7 that we think should be on your radar. 

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1. Democratic Republic of Congo

The 2017-20 Ebola outbreak in the DRC was the second-largest in history, and just one of the many aspects of the current state of humanitarian affairs in the country. For decades, one of the world’s deadliest, longest-running crises has been unfolding in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2021, the country became the world’s largest displacement crisis with nearly 5.5 million Congolese away from home.

A polio outbreak that began in 2018 is now an even bigger threat, as are the ongoing Horn of Africa locust invasion, regional drought, and devastating floods. 27 million Congolese require humanitarian assistance, nearly a 38% increase in need compared to last year’s report, and a 145% increase in humanitarian need compared to 2019. 

How did it get so bad? 

Like other countries on this list, the timeline for the Democratic Republic of Congo is full of oppression, neglect, and unrest. The country suffered especially under the colonial rule of Belgium, 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 has worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo longer than it’s been called that — when we first entered the country, 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 centers, 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. 

Recently trained care providers at the Nyamilima workshop, DRC (April 2019)

Recently trained care providers at the Nyamilima workshop, Democratic Republic of Congo (April 2019)

2. The Afghanistan Conflict

Caught in conflict since 1978, several generations of Afghans have never known life without instability and insecurity. The crisis in Afghanistan deepened in 2021, driving humanitarian need up to 24.4 million and pushing food insecurity to its limit. 

How did it get so bad? 

Setting political considerations aside, conflict invariably stresses a nation’s infrastructure and economy. As the Afghanistan conflict is now well into its fourth decade, so too have these stresses — with the greatest burdens felt by the most vulnerable communities. Repeated displacement leaves many families unable to access basic needs like clean water and education. The economic impacts of conflict and crisis mean that job opportunities are low while debts are high. Earthquakes and the impacts of climate change have both created added shocks that erode coping mechanisms. 

3. Conflict in Yemen

The Yemeni Civil War has, according to one UN estimate, 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. 

Yemen’s complex crisis sits at the crossroads of ongoing conflict, international displacement, and public health. While last year, the FAO, WFP, and UNICEF warned that emergency levels of food insecurity could affect up to 5 million in 2021, that number is now 16.2 million. A total of 20.7 Yemenis require humanitarian assistance. 

How did it get so bad? 

Violence in Yemen escalated sharply in March 2015, escalating unemployment, food insecurity, and insecurity for civilians. The destabilizing 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 recently partnered with fellow NGO ACTED (Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development) to design a program that focused on providing water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services, along with some economic support to help with immediate needs. 

A Concern-led emergency supply distribution in Sudan.

4. Sudan

In 2019, a transitional government formed after months of civilian protest, which has given many hope for economic and societal reform. However, such transitions don’t happen overnight, even in the best of circumstances. The additional challenges of 2020 made the situation more tenuous, especially for the most vulnerable citizens and residents. That hasn’t abated in 2021, and currently 14.3 million Sudanese require humanitarian assistance. 

How did it get so bad? 

Sudan is an example of the crisis that can remain after progress towards peace. The country continues to face conflict and violence which, combined with high inflation and the effects of a global pandemic, threaten famine-levels of food insecurity in some regions. Additionally, Sudan is a large host community in the current refugee crisis, which now includes a recent influx of people from Ethiopia, leaving over 1 million people vulnerable. 

What’s being done

Historically, Concern has focused on refugees and internally-displaced people in Sudan to ensure that their basic needs are met and to help them build lives and livelihoods while in displacement. We pair emergency relief with longer-term development programs in West Darfur, as well as West and South Kordofan.

5. The Syrian Crisis

What began as a response to peaceful protest in 2011 quickly became the decade-plus long Syrian crisis. An exodus of 5.5 million refugees has ensued, along with over 6 million Syrians displaced within the country. As of December, 2021, 14 million Syrians still in the country are in need of humanitarian assistance, including 4.8 million children. The European Commission Joint Research Centre’s INFORM Severity Index ranks Syria as the most severe humanitarian crisis as of December, 2020. 

How did it get so bad? 

Much like Yemen, Syria has spent much of the last century in and out of conflict. The latest influx began during the country’s Arab Spring protests in 2011, which gave way to an ongoing civil war. The involvement of multiple nations and factions has further complicated the situation. 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 LebanonTurkey, and Iraq. In and outside of Syria, we also are heavily focused on supporting children, many of whom suffer from exposure to violence and/or multiple displacements. 

South Sudanese woman and young child

Leylo* (30) with her youngest child six month old, Dit*. Leylo* is a member of Concern’s Targeted Supplementary Feeding Programme in Payam Ariath area in Aweil, South Sudan. (Photo: Abbie Taylor-Smith/ Concern Worldwide; Names changed to protect the identity of individuals)

6. South Sudan

Over the last decade, violence has forced people to flee their homes and plunged South Sudan into chaos and famine. As of December 2021, 8.4 million South Sudanese require humanitarian assistance, and hunger levels are at an all-time high. 

How did it get so bad? 

Since gaining independence in 2011, South Sudan has faced constant turbulence. There have been various agreements in an effort to find a peaceful solution, the most recent of which was in late 2018. While the country has extensive oil fields that form its economic backbone, the country is also landlocked which means that international negotiations have resulted in unpaid labor and ballooning inflation prices. Women and children have been hit hardest by these shocks, resulting in issues around maternal and child health, hunger, and malnutrition

What’s being done

50 years of experience has taught us that one of the most effective ways to get work done — especially in conflict-affected countries — is to work through local partners. Our focus in South Sudan with these partners is on nutrition, livelihoods, and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) programs. We provide therapeutic nutrition services in remote communities with a mobile version of our Community Management of Acute Malnutrition programs. We also support 49 health facilities to deliver life-saving interventions around malaria, pneumonia, and diarrhea. Concern also works in the Protection of Civilian site in Bentiu with WASH programming to provide access to safe water, proper sanitation, and hygiene promotion services.

7. Somalia

Political instability and civilian insecurity have combined with some truly devastating effects of climate change to form a complex humanitarian crisis in Somalia. The number of Somalis requiring humanitarian assistance now exceeds 7.7 million — just under half of the country’s population. 

How did it get so bad? 

Decades of conflict have made it difficult for many Somalis to keep a steady life and livelihood. This has combined with a decade-long drought in the country, floods, and one of the most devastating locust crises on record, leaving Somalia’s majority-agrarian population facing additional economic and food insecurity. 

What’s being done

Concern has been in Somalia for 35 years, responding to both the challenges of climate change and population displacement. We focus on nutrition support in the areas we work, as both of these circumstances can lead to acute malnutrition and famine, but we also work to build long-term systems and solutions for livelihoods and disaster risk reduction.

Displaced families collect SIM cards for emergency cash phone transfers from Concern Worldwide at a displacement camp in Mogadishu, Somalia. (Photo: Kieran McConville)

Concern’s emergency response and humanitarian crises

Last year, Concern responded to 78 emergencies in 23 countries, reaching 17.9 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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World's Worst Humanitarian Crises