2023 has been a year of crisis. Amidst conflicts, climate emergencies and food insecurity, the need for humanitarian aid has been at an all-time high, with funding struggling to keep up with growing demand.
Floods, heat waves, wildfires, conflicts, population displacement and economic crises have disrupted already struggling health systems, causing an increased need for both emergency and long-term resources to tend to the needs of populations.
Leading humanitarian aid expert and founder of Unimed Procurement Services Shameet Thakkar reflects on the repercussions of the humanitarian crises that have developed in the past year and how to facilitate long-lasting change.
Exploring the causes and effects of humanitarian crises
The conflicts we have seen take place in 2023, including in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Gaza, have created widespread, long-lasting damage and inconceivable human suffering.
Conflicts are potent catalysts for humanitarian crises, creating a complex web of challenges that affect populations in a number of ways, being particularly detrimental for vulnerable groups of individuals and their countries’ healthcare systems.
The displacement of civilians as a result of conflicts, such as in Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine has been particularly harmful. As violence escalates, people are forced to flee their homes, which disrupts entire communities, strains resources and exacerbates the risk of malnutrition and disease.
Moreover, these conflicts have led to the destruction of critical infrastructure such as hospitals, schools, and water supply systems, hampering access to essential services and leaving communities without adequate healthcare and even clean water.
Similarly, climate-related emergencies and disasters, such as the ones we’ve seen in Libya, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, can give rise to humanitarian crises by imposing severe and often sudden challenges on affected populations.
In 2022, nearly 32 million people suffered displacement due to weather-related emergencies.
Displacement often results in overcrowded and inadequate living conditions, increasing the risk of disease, malnutrition, and other health-related issues, which can pose long-term challenges to recovery by placing immense pressure on already strained resources.
What does 2024 look like for the humanitarian aid sector?
The combined impacts of climate change, conflict, and the economic repercussions of border closures place 7.3 million people in jeopardy of experiencing acute food insecurity.
Funding will struggle to keep pace with increasing humanitarian needs, with unequal funding across emergencies, cuts in funding as well as financial sanctions being an additional challenge.
For instance, the UK foreign budget cuts significantly affected the country’s ability to provide aid to developing countries.
With most of this aid being bilateral, meaning the UK gave funding to organisations for specific projects only, humanitarian relief projects of major importance were significantly affected, such as The Global Polio Eradication Initiative and UNAIDS’ HIV prevention and treatment programme.
Additionally, some of the most vulnerable women and girls were left without critical services in Afghanistan, facing death as a result of pregnancy or unsafe abortions, and estimates show that half a million of women and children in Yemen did not receive healthcare.
The issue of foreign aid is therefore a complex yet essential one to consider. With ongoing conflicts and climate disasters, displacement will continue to generate or exacerbate existing humanitarian crises, which will require continued humanitarian aid to be delivered on a large scale.
At the end of 2023, 114 million people around the globe were forcibly displaced due to war, violence, and climate-related disasters. With such a harrowing figure in mind, improving strategies and services in the sector is imperative, albeit challenging.
Generating long-lasting change: is international cooperation the only solution?
With additional natural disasters and conflicts straining the resources and capacities of individual countries – and especially developing countries – it becomes challenging for any single nation to address the multifaceted challenges that arise.
As 2024 begins, many are counting on the international community to be a source of ongoing support.
Humanitarian crises often demand a swift and well-coordinated response, with emergency resources being required that already-strained public systems in poorer countries are simply unable to provide. This is when international humanitarian aid becomes essential.
International cooperation is also vital for addressing the root causes of humanitarian crises. The global community has the power to work towards preventing and resolving conflicts, promoting sustainable development, and addressing the impact of climate change.
However, given the setbacks introduced by foreign aid cuts and other restrictions hindering humanitarian organisations' access to areas affected by conflicts, the potential of international humanitarian aid may be limited in some cases.
This means that international cooperation cannot be the only area we look at for improvement, and that strengthening countries’ internal healthcare systems is a priority.
Governments should work towards increasing resilience within their country’s health systems, building strategies dedicated to this objective in order to improve stability and overall mitigate the effects of future humanitarian crises.
A key part of this also involves climate action, prioritising our decarbonisation goals for the well-being of both the planet and populations across the world suffering from the impact of droughts, storms, and hotter temperatures.
Safeguarding populations is a complex effort requiring multiple conditions to be satisfied, with steps to be taken to deliver aid where it’s needed most, and to improve countries’ healthcare systems to be better prepared when the need arises.