In deep crisis, our world is faltering

Nearly 300 million people worldwide need urgent humanitarian help this year but all indications are that a majority of them may not be able to get it, or else may get only a small part of what is needed.

In deep crisis, our world is faltering

(Representation Image)

Nearly 300 million people worldwide need urgent humanitarian help this year but all indications are that a majority of them may not be able to get it, or else may get only a small part of what is needed. Gaza provides the most glaring example of rapid escalation of the humanitarian crisis within just a few days due to entirely avoidable causes. Here it was not a question so much of the international community’s failure to send adequate help as of artificial barriers being created for the people who need this help to access it.

Truckloads of food and other provisions were simply held up at the borders for days while a large number of people including children were on the verge of starvation. As the hunger and medical crisis escalated sharply, the most important UN agency taking care of people in urgent need of help faced sudden budget cuts. Sudan is another country where the humanitarian crisis has worsened very quickly during the last year, with thousands dying and nearly 8 million people getting displaced, sometimes being forced to take refuge in neighboring countries which already have humanitarian crises of their own. All this largely because two generals could not get along and, along with their forces and weapon supplies, amassed by plundering the resources of the country, plunged the country into another civil war.

In 2023 the world spent $2400 billion on military expenditure. During the same year the UN’s Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) tried to raise $57 billion for people facing humanitarian crises all over the world. This was just about 2.4 per cent of the world’s military budget. However, it could actually raise only about $ 20 billion. This amounted to just 0.8 per cent of the military expenditure of the world. This was less than one third of what a single country (the USA) provided by way of military assistance. This was only 2.2 per cent of the overall military budget of the USA of around $900 billion. The funding shortfall of almost two-thirds was the biggest shortfall that OCHA has ever experienced, at a time when billionaires are adding more to their wealth than ever before.


David Beasley, Chief of the World Food Program, stated in September 2021 that while at the height of Covid, billionaires were adding $5.2 billion per day to their wealth, 24,000 people were dying due to hunger every day. According to UN data, 9 million people die in a year from hunger, under-nutrition and related causes (2.5 million of them in the age group 0-5). While this is a figure often quoted to describe the extremely tragic implications of hunger in any typical year in recent times, OCHA, WFP, FAO and related UN agencies have not provided the data on deaths taking place in the areas most affected by hunger and humanitarian crisis. While they provide data on people who are facing emergency situations in various areas in any given year, next year they generally do not tell us how many people perished there.

Their reports merely tell us how many will face crisis and emergency situation in the next year for which resources have to be raised. If the number of deaths is more closely monitored in the worst-affected regions, this could help to alert the world to its responsibilities regarding the areas of humanitarian crisis in more effective ways. However, it is well known that much more needs to be done to take more help to the people of the worst-affected areas in countries like Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Yemen, Syria, Palestine region, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Haiti and some others.

The UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Assistance Martin Griffiths has stated very sadly, “Throughout the year 2023 humanitarian agencies had to make increasingly painful decisions, including cutting life-saving food, water and health programming.” An OCHA document says that the big shortfall of funds last year led to inability to reach people in the most desperate situations—

· In Afghanistan 10 million people lost access to food assistance between May and November 2023;

· In Myanmar, more than half a million people were left in desperate living conditions;

· In Yemen more than 80 per cent targeted for assistance could not get proper water and sanitation;

· In Nigeria only 2 per cent of the women expecting sexual and reproductive services and gender-based violence protection received it. Here it may be mentioned that even the $ 57 billion projection of the budget needed for 2023 by OCHA was meant to cover only a part of the people actually needing humanitarian assistance.

The actual funds received were less than the funds received in the previous year (something that is very rare), despite the big crisis situations appearing and then deteriorating rapidly in places like Gaza and Sudan. Hence OCHA and its partners could reach only 38 per cent of those who had been targeted to receive urgently needed help. While expressing his serious concern at this situation, Griffiths also quoted the World Food Program (WFP) as stating that a one per cent cut can put 400,000 more people in serious food insecurity. Discouraged by this situation, OCHA with its 1,900 partner organizations has asked for only $46 billion for the year 2024, compared to its call for $57 billion in the previous year. This is despite the fact that the number of people needing humanitarian assistance has increased this year to 300 million.

has cut down its ambitions and it is now trying to provide humanitarian assistance to only 180 million people (in 72 countries) out of these 300 million. Last year it was able to provide lifesaving assistance to 128 million people, according to its own data. Isn’t it a very serious and tragic situation that the most important humanitarian assistance organization has to cut down even its objectives and targets (from already lower than needed levels) at a time when the number of people affected by humanitarian crises have increased significantly. The world appears to have enough for increasing military and weapon budgets, or for overloading the treasures of billionaires, but not for meeting the most urgent needs of those in the greatest distress.

What makes this situation even more unjust is that those worst affected by the humanitarian crisis are also the victims of several long-term injustices and are caught up in terrible circumstances which appear more and more to be beyond their control. Women appear to be suffering particularly severely although they have often made significant contributions to peace and normalcy efforts. Clearly many more efforts need to be made at several levels in nonpartisan ways to take more help to areas of humanitarian crisis, including substantially improving the funds position of OCHA and its partner organizations. At the same time there is an equally important urgency to improve non-partisan efforts to bring peace and stability to many of these areas devastated by civil strife and war.

(The writer is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Protecting Earth for Children, Planet in Peril and A Day in 2071.)