The escalating war and humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine has taken hold of the world’s attention. With the scale and escalation of the conflict and the massive displacement, a large-scale humanitarian response is needed both inside Ukraine and in the neighbouring countries to ensure live-saving support to those affected.
The international donor community has responded quickly and comprehensively. The UN Flash Appeal for the Ukraine response in early March 2022 was met with one of the “fastest & most generous responses a humanitarian flash appeal has ever received” and the global pledging conference held on 9 April 2022 raised more than €9 billion.
The generous and comprehensive response to the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and the solidarity shown by States is positive and provides a good example of what the international community can do when the political will is there.
Multiple humanitarian crises in need of solidarity and generosity
While the world zooms in on Ukraine, humanitarian crises elsewhere persist and expand, with far less attention and support politically and financially, and many at risk of being further exacerbated by the Ukraine crisis and its impact on food prices and supplies.
In Afghanistan half of the population, more than 24 million people, depend on humanitarian aid to survive. There is a country-wide human rights crisis and humanitarian emergency unfolding, including threats to the civilian population, high levels of explosive ordnance contamination, forced displacement, gender-based violence and violations against children, while young women are barred from accessing post-secondary education. There is a drastic descent for many into poverty, resulting in a sharp increase in harmful coping mechanisms. While the international community paid a great deal of attention to the crisis as it unfolded in August 2021, the March UN donor conference this year fell billions short of the UN appeal of $4.4bn and the available aid budget does not match the overwhelming needs.
In Myanmar, the needs for urgent humanitarian assistance continue to increase by the day with deepening poverty and rapidly evolving food insecurity that has now reached record high levels affecting the entire country. It is estimated that 14 million people out of the total population of 54 million need humanitarian assistance (2022 Humanitarian Needs Overview).
Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia are experiencing one of the worst droughts in a generation after three back-to-back failed rainy seasons, with 12 to 14 million people estimated to be severely food insecure in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. In Somalia, the most affected country in the region, the humanitarian situation is rapidly deteriorating. Despite continuous warnings by humanitarian actors of an impending famine similar to the one in 2010/2011 where a quarter of a million lives were lost, Somalia’s Humanitarian Response Plan is not even 4% funded.
In Yemen, ongoing conflict has decimated the economy, forced over 4 million people to flee their homes and millions more face hunger. Despite rapidly growing needs, the recent pledging conference for Yemen fell $2.9bn short of UN identified funding. The pledging conference was followed by an additional pledge of $300 million to the UN programme, but without full funding for the response, critical humanitarian needs urgent humanitarian needs will go unmet in a country where two thirds of the population are dependent on humanitarian aid for survival.
In Syria, 11 years of war and conflict has left 14.6 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, an increase of 1.2 million from 2021. More than half of the population has been forced to leave their homes including almost seven million people displaced inside Syria and more than six million people have fled the country. The Syrian refugee crisis is further compounded by the scale of the economic challenges faced by neighbouring countries that have hosted the majority of Syrian refugees since the start of the conflict - with Lebanon in particular experiencing one of the worst economic and financial crises in recent history and the continued effects of the Beirut port blasts of 2020.
In the Sahel and Lake Chad region, the militarized response to conflicts has diverted funds from education, justice, health which encouraged authoritarian governments and increased the frustration, discontent and lack of opportunities of the population. In less than 5 years, insecurity in a region which has limited resources and is the most affected by climate change, has increased the number of people in need sixfold. By July, more than 41 million are projected to be food insecure yet pledges at a high-level donor conference earlier this month on the food and nutrition crisis in the Sahel and Lake Chad left a $4 billion funding gap in the UN appeal for West Africa.
And many more crises could be named.
Spending aid budgets at home
Some States are contemplating or have already made cuts to their development aid budgets to fund the reception of refugees from Ukraine domestically. While development aid allocations have been put on hold in some countries pending final decision on the Ukraine aid budget, in Denmark development aid was quickly redirected from other crises to the refugee response at home amidst stark and collective criticism by civil society, and most recently Sweden has followed suit.
The use of Official Development Assistance (ODA) to finance the refugee response at home also occurred across European States after the increase of arrivals of refugees in particular from Syria in 2015-2016. In 2016, where arrivals of refugees were considerable but no-where near the current more than 4,5 million refugees from Ukraine, 11% of the total ODA provided by all 29 DAC donor countries was diverted to domestic refugee response. With the expected scale of the refugee response in Europe, due to the war in Ukraine, an even more dramatic starvation of available national development aid budgets could be foreseen.
Redirecting development aid from resilience and peace-building efforts, aimed at preventing conflict and displacement in the world’s poorest and most fragile countries to refugee reception in donor countries interrupts and undoes long-term efforts and can have unintended long-lasting global implications including for peace, stability and displacement.
The risks of redirecting aid
The global consequences of redirecting aid and attention towards the Ukraine response is extremely concerning. Essential funding to the massive humanitarian needs in Ukraine and neighbouring countries should predominantly be additional aid, not taken from funding for existing crises to avoid worsened crises and devastating human costs. Spending development aid for domestic refugee responses should be urgently reconsidered with the implications of interrupting long-term efforts taken into account.
There are multiple crises calling for the World’s attention and turning a blind eye to some will have devastating consequences.