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UN calls for $35 billion in aid to meet 2021’s humanitarian crises

Pandemic, conflict, global warming and migration to make 2021 a challenging year

united-nations-reuters United Nations logo | Reuters

18.4 million people in need of aid in Afghanistan. 19.6 million in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 21 million in Ethiopia. Seven million in Venezuela. 24.3 million in Yemen.

You can see the numbers yourself, in the United Nations’ Inter-Agency Coordinated Appeals page, with a link to each country’s situation report. In Yemen, for example, not only does the population face the combined effect of a collapsed economy and an ongoing war, but the has also been “exacerbated by torrential rains, a fuel crisis, the threat of desert locusts and COVID-19”.

In 2021, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that at least 235 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection—1 in 33 people worldwide, an increase from the 1 in 45 at the start of 2020, itself the highest in decades.

From the coronavirus pandemic to a host of global challenges like forced migration and global warming, the coming year will see a 40 per cent increase in the number of people who need assistance.

The UN and partner organizations aim to assist 160 million people most in need across 56 countries and will require a total of $35 billion to do so, the inter-global agency said in its Global Humanitarian Overview released on Tuesday.

“The picture we're painting this year is the bleakest and darkest perspective on humanitarian needs we've ever set out, and that's because the pandemic has reaped carnage across the most fragile and vulnerable countries on the planet," said UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock, who heads OCHA.

“For the first time since the 1990s, extreme poverty is going to increase, life expectancy will fall, the annual death toll from HIV, tuberculosis and malaria is set to double,” he said. “We fear a near doubling in the number of people facing starvation.”

In 2020, more than 98 million people were reached, which accounts for 70 per cent of the total population targeted in 25 Humanitarian Response Plans, i.e. 6 per cent more than in 2019.

Lowcock told a UN briefing in New York on the overview that he thinks the UN appeal will probably raise a record $20 billion by the end of the year -- $2 billion more than last year. But he said the gap between needs and funding is growing and the UN is looking to “new players” coming on the scene in 2021, including US President-elect Joe Biden's new administration.

COVID-19 has triggered the deepest global recession since the 1930s, the GHO says. Extreme poverty has risen for the first time in 22 years, and unemployment has increased dramatically. Women and young people aged 15–29, working in the informal sector are being hit the hardest. School closures have affected 91 per cent of students worldwide.

The UN aims to reach about two-thirds of those in need, with the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations trying to meet the rest, Lowcock said..

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said humanitarian aid budgets are now facing dire shortfalls as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to worsen, and said extreme poverty has risen for the first time in more than a generation.

“The lives of people in every nation and corner of the world have been upended by the impact of the pandemic,” he said. “Those already living on a knife's edge are being hit disproportionately hard by rising food prices, falling incomes, interrupted vaccination programs and school closures.”

The overview, which is billed as one of the most comprehensive looks of the world's humanitarian needs, has put together nearly three dozen individual response plans for a total of 56 “vulnerable” countries.

Lowcock said the biggest problem is in Yemen where there is danger of “a large-scale famine” now, saying a prime reason is lack of funding from Gulf countries that were major donors in the past which has led to cuts in aid and the closing of clinics.

He said the biggest financial request is for the Syrian crisis and its spillover to neighbouring countries where millions of Syrians have fled to escape the more than nine-year conflict.

OCHA said other countries in need include Afghanistan, Congo, Haiti, Nigeria, South Sudan, Ukraine and Venezuela. Newcomers to this year's list are Mozambique, where extremist activity has increased in the north, Pakistan and Zimbabwe.

Lowcock said it's not the pandemic, but its economic impact that's having the greatest effect on humanitarian needs.

“These all hit the poorest people in the poorest countries hardest of all,” he said. “For the poorest, the hangover from the pandemic will be long and hard."

With inputs from PTI/AP

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