A World Health Organization official earlier this year declared that 2013 was the worst year that the international community had seen in more than sixty years. The three crises that were faced that year taxed the system almost more than it could bear. This year — with four crises labeled as the highest priority possible — is shaping up to be even worse, leaving aid organizations scrambling to provide the services hundreds of thousands rely upon.
For the first time since World War II, there are more than 50 million people displaced from their homes thanks to war and violence. Last December, the United Nations announced that it and its partners were launching an appeal totaling $12.9 billion to aid the — at the time — 52 million people in 17 countries who needed their help. So far, the international community hasn’t provided the full funding needed, leaving the situation bleak for millions. Here’s a brief look at the situations causing the greatest need for humanitarian help in modern history:
Facing the Abyss: Iraq
Since June, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) has been pushing across Iraq, causing a mass exodus of civilians in their path to flee for safety. As of last week, the United Nations estimated roughly 1.2 million internally displaced people (IDPs) were seeking shelter in Iraq, with another 300,000 requiring humanitarian assistance. There’s also an additional 200,000 refugees from Syria alone sheltering in Baghdad, also needing aid. The U.N. on Wednesday announced that 100 tons of emergency relief had landed in Iraq’s Kurdistan region in what was called “the largest single aid push” in more than a decade.
“This is a massive logistics operation to bring in relief supplies by air, land and sea to help the hundreds of thousands of desperate people who have fled suddenly with nothing but their lives, and are now struggling to survive in harsh conditions,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said as the effort was underway. Despite the size of the aid package, the situation remains dire for many of those who still require more. And despite setbacks for ISIS from the United States providing air support for Kurdish and Iraqi forces, the extremist forces are still in control of several major cities in Iraq, leaving this crisis nowhere near over.
Waiting for Rescue: Central African Republic
CREDIT: AP Photo/Jerome Delay
Twenty-eight days. That’s how much longer civilians in the Central African Republic will have to wait before the first United Nations peacekeeper arrives in the country in the hopes of restoring order in a country that has lost almost all semblances of it. A relative calm that had fallen over Bangui, the capital city, was dashed on Wednesday as former members of the Seleka rebel alliance and residents of a majority Muslim neighborhood clashed with peacekeepers from the European Union and French soldiers. The level of violence still on display in the CAR has made providing assistance all the more difficult for aid workers. Doctors Without Borders received at least 31 wounded in Bangui from Wednesday’s fighting, with more expected, and the Red Cross announced that one of its volunteers on the ground had been killed in the crossfire.
Of a population of 4.5 million, there are currently at least half a million IDPs in the Central African Republic and more than half of all Central Africans in need of assistance. In the face of that overwhelming need, the international community has been less than willing to donate to providing help. For 2014, the United Nations requested $565 million to provide food, medicine, and shelter; so far, nearly three-quarters of the way through the year, it has received only 44 percent of that — $248 million.
Preparing for Famine: South Sudan
CREDIT: AP Photo/Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin
It didn’t have to be this way. Just three years ago, South Sudan was being celebrated as the world’s youngest country, after its split from Sudan following decades of civil war. Now the country is enmeshed in a war of its own, as forces loyal to the government continue to battle those following the former vice president. The two sides — whose fighting has exacerbated ethnic tensions in the country to the point of open hatred — refuse to sit down and discuss peace, instead sniping at each other and being generally unhelpful. The climate for aid workers is dire, as just two weeks ago six South Sudanese humanitarian workers were killed based on their ethnicity.
And things could be set to get even worse. All signs in South Sudan, according to experts, points towards a pending famine in the young country. “By the end of the year, we’re facing a situation where one out of every two people in South Sudan are either going to have a real threat to their lives because of hunger or they will have been displaced from their homes … or they will have fled from the country,” Tony Lanzer, the U.N. coordinator of humanitarian aid in South Sudan, told Foreign Policy. The United States last week announced a boost of funding for South Sudan’s humanitarian efforts to the tune of $180 million. But even that isn’t enough to close the gap between the $1.8 billion that the U.N. said is needed to avert total catastrophe in the country, compared to the $918 million currently pledged.
Clinging to Hope: Syria
CREDIT: AP Photo/UNRWA
Food is a weapon of war in Syria. It can be given to those who line up with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his regime. Or it can be withheld from those who have the gall to live in rebel-controlled territory. This is, of course, illegal under international law; the U.N. Security Council has now passed two resolutions demanding that the Syrian government end the de facto siege its levied against several cities. While the aid is starting to flow in now, the fact remains that as of last month the United Nations reported that more than 400,000 Syrians still live in beseiged areas, the vast majority of whom are under assault from government forces.
The Syrian refugee crisis, which was horrific even before ISIS began its surge in neighboring Iraq, also continues to weigh heavily on the entire region. There are currently nearly three million Syrians being housed in the countries next door; in Lebanon, the refugees now equal a quarter of the total Lebanese population. There’s also the fact that humanitarian workers are so concerned about the continued use of chlorine gas in crudely made barrel bombs that the World Health Organization lists tips on dealing with chemical attacks on its website on Syria. But given how long the crisis has gone on, the headlines of the atrocities in Syria find it harder and harder to make headlines.