The Top 10 Trends Driving Humanitarian Need in 2023

Sadly, these 10 global trends that are driving the greatest humanitarian needs for children in 2023conflict, climate, cost-of-living—are all quite familiar. However, what is becoming clear is the complex relationships between these topics and how they collide and compound one another to create humanitarian crises that are more frequent, more complex, more severe, and harder to resolve

A small child who is suffering from malnutrition, buries her head against a caretaker.

Trend #1. Climate Catastrophe

Across 2023, the impact of the climate change will deepen as fundamental long-term changes (rainfall levels, temperatures, seawater intrusion) become further entrenched, and natural disasters will only become more intense, frequent and unpredictable. The impacts will be felt differently around the world, but no region will be spared.

The Middle East and North Africa regions are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change because of its inherent vulnerabilities: scarce water resources, protracted conflicts, high population density, poor governance, and oil-reliant economic models. According to NASA, the Eastern Mediterranean is experiencing its worst drought in 900 years, and last year the breadbaskets of Syria and Iraq received their lowest rainfall since the 1950s. More than 21.2 million children in the region are living in poverty and are exposed to high climate risk. 

Trend #2. Challenges to the liberal international order

The US-led rules-based international system grounded in political and economic liberalism is being increasingly challenged. The challenges to this vast architecture have significant implications for global stability as well as for the norms and institutions that undergird international human rights. 

Trend #3. Global inflation and economic disruptions

As the world reels from consecutive crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the far-reaching impacts of the Ukraine conflict, it is the most vulnerable communities in the most vulnerable economies that suffer the brunt of these disruptions. Both a result and driver of these concurrent crises has been a global inflation crisis with inflation levels reaching 8.8% according to the latest IMF data.

Of the 10 countries facing the highest inflation rates, three are in the ESA region, including Ethiopia. Ethiopia has been facing inflationary pressure from before the COVID pandemic driven by a severely negative trade balance and shortages in foreign currency reserves that have only been exacerbated by global pressures causing inflation to nearly double from 15.8% in 2019 to 33.6% in 2022.

In this environment it is no surprise that the economic pressure is driving negative coping strategies. A clear example has been the dramatic increase in child marriages that is most pronounced in conflict and drought affected areas but occurring nationwide, reversing years of progress as families seek not only to sustain themselves from dowries but provide what they hope is an exit for their child from economic distress. 

Trend #4.  Increased food insecurity

Food insecurity has soared globally from 135 million food insecure in 2019 to 345 million today.

The East and Southern Africa Region is at the forefront of this rapidly deteriorating hunger crisis driven by a variety of crises from within and outside the African Continent that do not simply layer on top of each other but rather operate in a complex system of feedback loops that feed into each other and accelerate the deteriorating humanitarian conditions.

A prime example of these feedback loops is South Sudan where successive years of devastating floods, civil war, intercommunal conflict and macro-economic deterioration have driven the hunger crisis to historic levels.  As ever worsening flooding displaces populations and damage pasture, pastoralists adapt their migration paths bringing them into contact with other communities leading to resource driven conflict. Conflict that displaces agrarian communities at critical harvest times damaging their livelihoods and further deteriorating food security.

The natural result has been that communities are pushing youth and children towards recruitment in armed groups that provide a source of livelihoods as well as security in the midst of the political atrophy that is not only failing to prevent communal conflict but driving it.

Trend #5. The Energy Crunch

Shocks to the global energy market, including the war in Ukraine, has created an unpredictable market that could accelerate the arrival of a global recession and will have cascading effects on humanitarian operations.

This year, energy prices were one of the key drivers of the cost-of-living crisis in Asia. In Bangladesh, a grid failure in October disrupted the power supply to 168 million people across 80% of the country. Sri Lanka, already unable to afford imported fuel, was further handicapped when a drought cut its hydropower yield by half. In Laos, fuel prices have increased 95% year-on-year. In India and Pakistan, power cuts resulted in the closure of schools and left people without the means to cope with extreme heat. , Pakistan is putting in place plans to ration gas to households. 

Trend #6. Demographic Change

In November, the world population topped 8 billion. The coming decades will bring significant shifts in demographics, as populations expand, move, become more urban, and are exposed to new challenges. It is estimated that by 2030, 50% of the world’s population will live in coastal areas exposed to increasing climate shocks like floods, storms, and tsunamis. 

Trend #7. Armed Conflict

This year more than 450 million children—or one in six—were living in a conflict zone, the highest number in 20 years. And this number is expected to grow in 2023. Civil wars, interstate warfare, cultural and ethnic conflicts, criminal groups, and terrorist activity increased in numbers and so did their impacts on children; with the drivers of these violent conflicts being linked to an interconnected web of economic, social, and political grievances.

Overall, the global trend in armed conflict is toward protracted conflicts, frequently agitated by external powers through local proxy forces and private military companies. This is turn will limit the prospects of conflict termination through negotiated settlements across most active war zones in 2023.

As a result, the number of people displaced by war, violence, persecution, child recruitment, and human rights violations in 2022 totaled 89.3 million, an 8% increase over the previous year and more than double the number of ten years ago with the number of refugees growing to 27.1 million. 

Trend #8. Shrinking Cival Space

The past two decades have seen a broad rise in authoritarianism around the globe, paired with a retreat of personal rights of speech, assembly, and privacy.

 

#9. The Struggling Aid Sector

The aid sector is now, more than ever, forced to face its demons, against the backdrop of a dramatic rise in humanitarian needs and rising criticism of INGOs.

West and Central Africa bears the brunt of the contradictions of a sector that is historically rooted in colonialism and power imbalances. 

Due to its structural vulnerabilities (e.g., Nigeria and DRC are expected to be the top two countries with the highest number of extreme poor by 2030), WCA is particularly exposed to frequent and severe humanitarian emergencies .

Trend #10. The Age of the Polycrisis

2022 felt like the year of “everything, everywhere, all at once” as every problem triggered the next and occurred against a backdrop of other complex problems. Gone are the days of the single-cause crisis. 

As crises become multi-dimensional and protracted, so do the risks to children. We face the possibility of multiple lost generations. As we struggle to respond to their immediate needs, more and more children fall victim to severe acute malnutrition, trafficking, learning loss, psychological harm and trauma amongst other things.

But perhaps the greatest risk of all is that the fatigue and hopelessness that comes with confronting polycrises will create a sense that these problems are intractable and beyond our capacity to solve, when in fact, the stakes are too high to surrender.

What is Save the Children's history of responding to 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 2021, we responded to 103 emergencies in 80 countries and aided 18 million children in crisis.  Today, our staff are on the ground responding to emergencies and humanitarian crisis around the globe.

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