Armed conflict will fuel humanitarian crises in 2020

Armed conflict will fuel humanitarian crises in 2020
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The humanitarian outlook for 2020 and beyond forecasts a situation that is both complex and insecure, even as global development gains bring millions out of extreme poverty.

The causes and conditions of extreme poverty are rarely limited to a single factor. Instead, the world’s most vulnerable people live in a complex context, often in fragile or failing states, where political and social systems that might offer protection have broken down.

Increasingly, the common underlying denominator is violent conflict. And the nature of the modern conflict is becoming more complex.

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There are fewer formal wars between states, but an increasing number of longer-lasting internal conflicts within countries that impact entire regions.

Combatants are increasingly non-state actors, including local militias, guerilla movements, or terrorist organizations. Outside powers in proxy wars, at times, fuel violence.

Fighting is being sustained by war economies that include trafficking in minerals, people, and/or illicit goods, as well as by diaspora contributions. More and more, the traditional international rules of war and humanitarian protection are being flouted.

A recent United Nations report underscores these multiple drivers of a humanitarian crisis. Among its findings:

  • Armed conflict has driven a record 71 million people from their homes. More than half of the 50 countries with the newest displacements were affected by both conflict and natural disasters.
  • Eight of the worst food crises in the world are linked to both conflict and climate shocks.
  • Hunger is rising, and it, too, is driven largely by conflict. Two-thirds of the 74 million people suffering from acute hunger in the world live in 21 countries and territories affected by conflict and insecurity.

This thread of conflict-driven humanitarian crisis runs through the 2020 Early Warning Forecast, a report by international NGOs Lutheran World Relief and IMA World Health looking at the hotspots that will continue or worsen over the next year.

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These complex humanitarian emergencies include war-torn Yemen; the Democratic Republic of Congo, where militia violence is hindering the response to end the Ebola outbreak; several perils facing Central America; extremist attacks in West Africa’s Sahel; violent protests in Iraq; South Sudan, recovering from years of civil war; and the continuing crisis in Venezuela.

These scenarios present a host of challenges for nongovernmental relief and development organizations working to eliminate poverty and ease human suffering. We will need to employ new, imaginative and innovative approaches if we hope to make an impact.

We are going to have to build our capacity to work in conflict-ridden, hostile environments because that’s where the extremely poor who most need assistance are going to be.

With record numbers of refugees and the internally displaced fleeing from conflicts that are lasting longer, we will have to employ development approaches and longer-lasting solutions that include new partners, including the private sector. And it will be vital to recognize the primacy of local partners who best know the social and political context of their communities. 

Daniel Speckhard is a former U.S. ambassador to Greece and Belarus. He is also a former deputy chief of Mission in Iraq and a senior official at NATO. Speckhard is the president and CEO of Lutheran World Relief and IMA World Health.