10 Humanitarian Crises to Know About in 2021

A humanitarian crisis is considered to be an event or events that threaten the health, safety or wellbeing of a large group of people. Humanitarian crises can be caused by war, natural disasters, famine, and outbreak of disease. Children and families are often greatly affected by humanitarian crisis and can be impacted long after the event occurs. 

Humanitarian crises have devastating physical, psychological and social consequences for children. Children are especially vulnerable following the loss of their homes or families, or finding themselves forced to flee conflict.

In the midst of a real and severe public health crisis that is the COVID-19 pandemic, we must not forget about the humanitarian crises impacting children.

The UN estimates that in 2021, nearly 235 million people will need humanitarian assistance globally. Half the disaster-affected population will be children. This will have a dramatic impact on a whole generation of children, with profound immediate and long-term implications for children’s rights.

Here, we highlight 10 current humanitarian crises in countries where conflict, food insecurity and climate change have created a need for humanity's urgent attention. 

1. Afghanistan  

War-torn Afghanistan is one of the worst places in the world to be a child. The country's economy and infrastructure are in ruins due to ongoing conflict. With countless homes destroyed and thousands of children forced flee their homes, the risk of hunger, disease, including COVID-19, and even freezing to death are daily realities.

 “Afghanistan remains largely forgotten in the shadow of other global emergencies after more than 18 years of conflict, tens of thousands of civilian deaths and multiple failed peace efforts,” said Onno van Manen, former Afghanistan Country Director for Save the Children.

“This is a country where all children who were born and raised here have known nothing but war, where they are scared to go to outside and where they risk abuse and exploitation." 

Photo: Joan Marie del Mundo / Save the Children

2. Democratic Republic of Congo 

The turbulent Democratic Republic of the Congo has endured over two decades of conflict and political instability, creating one of the world’s largest and most complex humanitarian crises

DRC has one of the world’s poorest health systems made worse by the country’s battle with Ebola, cholera, COVID-19 and other life-threatening diseases. 

Today, the country has nearly 5 million internally displaced people – more than any other African country – who have fled violence, ethnic tension and conflict over land. More than 21 million people across the DRC are now facing hunger, including nearly four million children under the age of five.  

Photo credit: Sami M. Jassar / Save the Children

3. Central Sahel Africa

Three deadly attacks in the first week of 2021 mark the danger for children in the Sahel region, which encompasses the border areas of Burkina Faso, Mali and western Niger.

Ongoing armed violence and insecurity have forced 1.4 million people across the region to flee their homes in less than two years. The growing food and nutrition insecurity has led to high levels of malnutrition, and poor access to clean water and sanitation. As a result, nearly 5 million children are in need humanitarian aid.

“Children living in the Sahel region who are impacted by the armed conflict are in dire need of protection," said Amavi Akpamagbo, Country Director for Save the Children in Mali, "and measures must be taken to ensure their safety, their access to education, and other basic needs like food, clean water and shelter." 

Photo credit: Hanna Adcock / Save the Children

4. Venezuela 

Venezuela remains one of the most dangerous countries for children. Hyperinflation, unemployment, food and medical supply shortages, and the resulting malnutrition crisis has increased the number of people leaving in desperation.

Displacement from Venezuela is among the highest in the world - second only to Syria.

Children fleeing are experiencing a harrowing journey – sometimes all alone — while suffering from malnutrition, disease and chronic stress.

5. Syria

“A decade of conflict has dragged millions of Syrian families into poverty, forced children to work just to survive, and drove hundreds of thousands of them out of school, making education a pipe dream," said Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria Response Director. 

More than 4.6 million children across the country are food-insecure. Families can simply not afford to put food on the table. At least one in eight children, or 500,000, currently suffer from stunting or chronic malnutrition.

As the COVID-19 outbreak in Syria continues to spiral out of control, the country is struggling with a chronic shortage of hospital beds, testing, water, and oxygen. "Imagine what it is like for displaced families in an overcrowded camp with no access to treatment or protection, who do not know whether to escape from the ongoing hostilities or find protection from a deadly pandemic."  

Photo credit: Sami M. Jassar / Save the Children

6. Yemen

After more than five years since the escalation of hostilities, Yemen remains the world's biggest humanitarian crisis

The UN estimates that 16.2 million people in the country will face high levels of acute food shortages early this year. This includes more than 7 million children, with nearly 21,000 children at risk of falling into famine.

For more than five years, children in Yemen have died because of conflict, disease and extreme hunger. Malnourished babies are getting the worst possible start to life, and fewer and fewer people can afford a basic meal.

Photo credit: Rik Goverde / Save the Children

7. South Sudan

South Sudan has one of the highest child mortality rates in the world with more than 90 children out of 1,000 dying before they reach the age of five.

Now, a dramatic increase in food insecurity has pushed one million children in South Sudan to the brink of starvation with no signs of slowing. 

Recent severe flooding, intercommunal violence, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and general economic decline have had a devastating impact on the region. The loss of crops, livestock, homes, and access to hospitals has pushed 6.5 million people into a severe food crisis.

8. Ethiopia

Today, the children of Ethiopia are facing unprecedented challenges. The region had been hit hard by desert locust, heavy flooding and other climate-related crises.

The conflict in Tigray has left over over 1.7  million people displaced across the Tigray region. Another 5.2 million people are in need of assistance. 

An alarming number of children are currently separated from their parents as the result of the conflict in Tigray, with many living in unsafe and dire conditions in informal camps. LEARN MORE ABOUT CHILDREN IN ETHIOPIA.

Photo credit: Etinosa Yvonne / Save the Children

9.  Nigeria 

Conflict in Nigeria's northeast is escalating. The end of 2020 was marked by a horrific attack on a secondary school in northwestern Nigeria. 

Sadly, the recruitment of children by armed groups in the Sahel region has been on the rise. With health and education systems already in crisis, children are fighting to survive. 

Photo credit: Ahmad Baroudi / Save the Children

10.  Iraq

Decades of conflict and widespread violence have plagued Iraq, which is one of the five worst conflict-affected countries to be a child.

An unprecedented 3 million Iraqis have been forced to flee their homes due to violence, about half of whom are children. 

In late 2020, the sudden closure of several formal camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) in Iraq forced thousands of people to live in abandoned areas among rubble and unexploded bombs. 

* Name changed for protection.

Save the Children's history of working on humanitarian crises

Save the Children has responded to every major humanitarian crisis since World War I. We are always at the ready - among the first to respond and the last to leave an effected area. In 2020, we responded to 136 emergencies in 77 countries and aided 18.5 million children in crisis.  Today, our staff are on the ground responding to emergencies and humanitarian crisis around the globe. 


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