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2020: Majority of lives at risk concentrated in 20 countries

2020: Majority of lives at risk concentrated in 20 countries

New analysis by experts from the International Rescue Committee (IRC) shows Yemen is the country most at risk of humanitarian catastrophe in 2020, for the second year in a row, followed by DRC and Syria;The countries on the list have changed little since last year, demonstrating the collective failure of the international community to resolve the root causes of these humanitarian disasters. Democratic leadership and financial support are key for these emerging and longstanding crises;The 20 countries on IRC’s Watchlist 2020 are home to just over 10% of the global population but host 80% of all people in need; Restrictions on humanitarian access and disregard for International Humanitarian Law are major concerns across all Watchlist countries and could significantly undermine the ability of humanitarian actors to respond to these crises and meet growing needs in 2020;The IRC will have operated in the 20 Watchlist countries for an average of 15 years, and in six of them for over 20 years, highlighting the protracted nature of these catastrophes. Despite the IRC’s continual operation, these conflicts are increasingly violent. OCHA reports that the number of highly violent conflicts rose in 2019 for the first time in four years.

The International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) emergency response experts have ranked the countries most at risk of humanitarian catastrophe for 2020. In order, Yemen (number one for the second year in a row), the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, Nigeria and Venezuela are Watchlist 2020’s top five crises, all five of which ranked highly in the 2019 list, demonstrating the collective failure of the international community to resolve the root causes of these humanitarian disasters. 

Countries on the list disproportionately host populations in need of humanitarian assistance and are among the states least equipped to respond to new crises or sudden deterioration in crises. The top 10 produced nearly three quarters of the world’s refugees and over half of those in need, yet their appeals for humanitarian funding in 2019 were nearly 40% underfunded on average.

David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, said, “2019 was a devastating year for civilians caught in crisis worldwide. Truly the Age of Impunity has arrived.  70.8 million people are displaced worldwide. Armed conflict, growing disregard for international humanitarian law amidst a crisis of global leadership means the dangers in 2020 are growing not receding. 

 “Across the globe, the scale of need in 2020 is also likely to stretch resources beyond their limit. 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. It is no coincidence that the IRC has worked in these countries for 15 years on average. The IRC has recently estimated that the cost of another five years of conflict in one watchlist country – Yemen – is $29 billion. This, along with countless lives and livelihoods squandered, is evidence of the true cost of the Age of Impunity.

“As humanitarians, we can prevent the dying, but it takes politics to stop the killing. Humanitarian actors like the IRC will continue to respond with lifesaving aid. But to truly address these challenges. it is vital that the international community, led by the U.N. Security Council members, take long-term approaches, re-engage their diplomatic muscle to prevent and resolve conflict and reinvigorate their support of international humanitarian law and accountability for those who violate it. Otherwise, the consequences of these humanitarian crises — massive displacement, women and girls at risk of violence, widespread hunger, demolished health systems, a lost generation of children with no chance of education— offer no hope of abating.” 

Most of these humanitarian crises have been characterized by similar themes: 

  • Restrictions on humanitarian access are a major concern across all Watchlist countries and could significantly undermine the ability of humanitarian actors to respond to these crises and meet growing needs in 2020. According to ACAPS, there are “very high” or “extreme” obstacles to humanitarian access in all of the top five countries and in 14 of the 20 Watchlist countries. 
  • Nine of the 10 countries in the top 10 are experiencing major conflict. 
  • Nearly all countries in the Sahel region, from Mali to Sudan, are on Watchlist 2020. This reflects the impact of rising conflict – driven by  militancy and competition for resources as well as increasing droughts and flooding possibly related to climate change. 
  • Disease outbreaks are a major concern in many Watchlist countries. The Ebola outbreak continues in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (number two on the list) and presents a threat to several other countries on the Watchlist.Cholera is present in several more, including Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. In many Watchlist countries, prolonged armed conflict has damaged health, sanitation and other infrastructure, increasing the risk of disease outbreaks.  Venezuela’s economic collapse has had similar consequences. 

The IRC is responding to the crises in all of the countries on the Watchlist (with the exception of Sudan, where the IRC is now registered and moving forward  with the re-launch of humanitarian programs), helping people to survive, recover and gain control of their lives. 


Distributed by APO Group on behalf of International Rescue Committee.International Rescue Committee
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