In addition to the serious refugee crises caused mainly by war and the effects of climate change, this year the COVID-19 pandemic was added, drawing, according to the UN, a "bleak and bleak" scenario for 2021. The international organisation will ask for a total of 35 billion dollars to deal with this crisis.
The head of UN humanitarian operations, Mark Lowcock, announced that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has developed programmes to help 160 million of the estimated 235 million people who will need humanitarian assistance, and warned that we face a choice: "either let 2021 be the year of the big turnaround, after 40 years of progress, or work together to ensure that we find a way out of this pandemic.
OCHA is asking for 20% more funding for 2021 than this year, but the problem is that if states have not fully responded to the agency's requests in previous years, they should not do so this year, as they are facing the economic crisis resulting from the pandemic on their own territory. It is true that so far, in 2020, donors have provided a record $17 billion, but this is less than half of what has been requested for this year. This is only 70 per cent of the annual target.
The outlook for humanitarian aid in 2021 "reflects COVID's impact on some of the world's most vulnerable places, adding to earlier factors such as conflict and climate change, with more floods, droughts and other extreme events," Lowcock said.
COVID-19 triggered the deepest global recession since the 1930s. For the first time in 22 years, extreme poverty and unemployment have increased dramatically, with women and young people aged 15-29 working in the informal sector most affected.
By the end of the year, the number of acutely food-insecure people could reach 270 million. Political conflicts are the main cause, affecting a total of 77 million people in 22 countries. But other factors such as the increasing frequency of weather events and natural disasters also aggravate chronic vulnerabilities.
In the health sector, the annual number of deaths from diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis and malaria could double, putting an end to 20 years of progress. In addition, more than 5 million children under the age of five face the threat of cholera and acute watery diarrhoea. Outbreaks are on the rise and the pandemic has hampered health services in almost every country.
In terms of gender inequality, domestic confinement has led to increased exposure of women and girls to gender-based violence. Estimates indicate an increase of 15 million cases of gender-based violence in the home for every three months of confinement.
The pandemic has also undermined mental health, particularly in humanitarian settings where resources for psychological care are scarce or non-existent. Loss of employment, loss of family and friends, and confinement, among other things, are risk factors for mental well-being in the short and long term. The main obstacle is the lack of funding in national budgets, with only 17 per cent of countries having secured additional funding in this area.
Middle East, Africa and Latin America will be a priority
In many of these countries, one of the main threats, according to the UN humanitarian aid chief, is the possibility of major famines, which "could occur in many parts of the world and will be a tough test by 2021," Lowcock predicts.
The Middle East and Africa will be at the forefront of the humanitarian agenda. For Syrian refugees, $10 billion will be allocated to help 20.6 million people. The war in Yemen will force the UN to allocate $3.4 billion to help 19 million people. In Africa, the UN will ask for $4 billion for the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan, countries that have been devastated by political and economic instability.
In Latin America, the epicentre of the disease for much of 2020, recurrent natural disasters, extreme poverty, violence, food insecurity, massive displacement, economic inequality and political instability, as well as the effects of VIDC-19, will have social and humanitarian consequences that will be felt for years, if not decades, according to the UN.
Venezuela, Colombia and Haiti will be the countries most in need of humanitarian assistance. OCHA will request US$2.162 billion to help 4.5 million Venezuelans in the country and 3.3 million of the 7 million migrants in other Latin American countries. As for Colombia, the UN estimates that 6.7 million citizens need humanitarian aid after decades of conflict, and will ask for US$300 million to help 1.5 million people. For Haiti, where food insecurity has risen from 2.6 million (2019) to 3.1 million (2020), $235.6 million will be needed.