The International Rescue Committee (IRC) ranks the world’s top 20 countries experiencing the worst humanitarian crises annually in order to identify and aid the countries that need it most. For the 2020 Watchlist, the top five countries experiencing the worst humanitarian crises are Yemen, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Syria, Nigeria and Venezuela. All five were also in the top 10 countries in 2018’s watchlist.
Top 5 Countries Experiencing the Worst Humanitarian Crises
- Yemen: For the second year in a row, Yemen is at the top of the list as the worst humanitarian crisis. Most of Yemen’s troubles are due to the civil war that began in 2015. With failed peace talks and a shaky government, the Houthi insurgents, who began the civil war over high fuel prices and a corrupt government, and the Saudi-led coalition of Gulf forces continue to fight. The ongoing conflict has greatly destabilized the country, its infrastructure and its ability to provide services to its people. Around 80% of Yemen’s population (more than 24 million people) need humanitarian assistance. Attacks on infrastructure have further weakened the ability to provide healthcare, education, food, fuel, clean water and sanitation. More than 1.2 million Yemenis face severe food insecurity and around 68% of Yemenis do not have access to healthcare. In 2019, cholera began to spread through Yemen, placing even more pressure on the extremely limited and unprepared healthcare system. The outbreak eventually killed more than 3,700 people.
- The Democratic Republic of the Congo: The DRC has been in a state of crisis for nearly 30 years. It began with conflict and corruption fueling under-development and instability in the country. This lead to 17% of the population needing humanitarian aid. Fighting between the military and different ethnic militias is common. Most recently the fighting has been in the East and Central DRC. These internal conflicts have displaced 4.5 million Congolese. These people had to flee their homes and agricultural livelihoods, which also drives up food insecurity. Around 15.6 million Congolese are experiencing severe food insecurity. In 2019, the DRC had both the second-largest Ebola outbreak in history and a measles outbreak. Measles alone has killed more than 4,000 people.
- Syria: The home to the largest displacement crisis in the world, Syria has been at war since 2015. As a result, 65% of the Syrian population requires aid. The complex civil war has dilapidated the infrastructure, leaving 54% of health facilities and 50% of sewage systems are non-functional. The conflict has displaced more than 12.7 million Syrians. More than 6 million people are internally displaced and around 5.7 million Syrians are refugees in Europe or neighboring countries.
- Nigeria: Nigeria faces internal conflicts in the north, a cholera outbreak and high levels of food insecurity. Around 7.7 million Nigerians need aid, mainly from the northern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe. There is a significant difference between the developed areas, like the cities of Lagos and Abuja, and the less developed areas in the north. The north has experienced conflict with Boko Haram, a terrorist group, and its splinter faction, the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP). Operating in Nigeria’s North-East region since 2009, Boko Haram and ISWAP present a dangerous threat to Nigeria’s military. As a result, local militias and vigilantes responded against these groups. Due to the conflicts between the terrorist groups and the militias, 540,000 Nigerians are internally displaced and 41,000 people traveled north into Niger. On top of the ongoing fighting, endemic diseases, such as cholera and Lassa fever, are spreading throughout the country.
- Venezuela: Due to the near-collapse of Venezuela’s economy and the continued political turmoil, basic systems that provide food, clean water and medicine are in short supply. Hyperinflation drove up the prices of basic goods and services, leaving households without enough money to purchase food. At least 80% of Venezuelans are experiencing food insecurity. Additionally, only 18% of people have consistent access to clean water. Without healthcare, people are unguarded against disease. With 94% of households in poverty, Venezuelans are compelled to leave the country. By the end of 2020, the IRC estimates that 5.5 million Venezuelans will emigrate. This will cause the largest internal displacement in Latin America and the second-largest refugee crisis in the world behind Syria.
Help on the Ground
There are many NGOs working to alleviate the situation in these countries. Organizations like the Red Cross, IRC and Doctors Without Borders among many others, have been working for years in conflict-heavy countries. For example, Doctors Without Borders set up mobile health clinics to provide maternal health, vaccinations and treat non-communicable diseases in Syria. The International Committee of the Red Cross increased its budget to $24.6 million in 2019 to ramp up efforts to improve “health, water and sanitation” in Venezuela. The International Rescue Committee brought health, safety and education to 2.7 million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo 2019. It provided healthcare, supplies and sanitation aid to the area.
David Miliband, the president and CEO of IRC, stated, “It’s vital that we do not abandon these countries when they need us most, and that governments around the world step up funding to these anticipated crises before more lives are lost — and the bill for humanitarian catastrophe rises.” These five worst humanitarian crises in 2020 show the world that there is much work still needed. With continued aid and funding from all governments, the U.N. and its agencies and NGOs, millions of people can receive the help that they so desperately need.
– Zoe Padelopoulos