Record numbers in need of humanitarian assistance in wake of Covid-19

Khair Al-Sham camp in Syria, 20 March 2020. The camp currently hosts IDPs from various cities and provinces. Credit: UNOCHA

Covid-19 has sent humanitarian needs skyrocketing, according to this year’s record breaking UN humanitarian response plan.

Covid-19 has pushed the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance to a record high, with the aftershocks of the pandemic predicted to leave 235 million in need of support next year, according to the UN’s 2021 Global Humanitarian Overview (GHO).

The annual report of trends and worldwide humanitarian needs, released today, found one in 33 people worldwide are in need of humanitarian support due to the compounded effects of hunger, conflict, displacement and the impacts of climate change and the pandemic. This is an increase from the one in 45 people a year ago, which was already the highest figure in decades.

By November last month, the UN's Global Humanitarian Response Plan for Covid-19 (GHRP) had requested $ 9.5bn , which, combined with existing humanitarian appeals, set a record ask of $ 39bn, less than half of which has been funded to date . The GHRP is set to expire at the end of this year, as humanitarian programming incorporates health and non-health effects of Covid-19 into regular humanitarian response plans, reflected in this year's GHO.

“The rich world can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. The same is not true in the poorest countries, ”UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said in a statement. “The Covid-19 crisis has plunged millions of people into poverty and sent humanitarian needs skyrocketing.”

Mounting challenges and aid shortfalls. The global recession triggered by Covid-19 has contributed to the first rise in extreme poverty in 22 years, as well as a dramatic increase in worldwide unemployment, with the GHO revealing women and young people have been hit the hardest.

The last decade also saw record numbers of people internally displaced by conflict and violence, with an estimated 51 million new and existing internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 20 million refugees. It was also the hottest decade on record, and increasingly severe and frequent weather events and natural disasters are exacerbating chronic vulnerabilities in the worst-hit countries.

The GHO covers 34 response plans across 54 vulnerable countries including Syria, Yemen, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Afghanistan, where protracted conflict, escalating poverty and food insecurity, and volatile weather events have pushed millions to the brink of disaster. The plan aims to reach 160 million of the people most in need of support next year, at an estimated cost of $ 35bn.

“The humanitarian system again proved its worth in 2020,” said UN secretary-general António Guterres in a statement ahead of the launch of the GHO. “But the crisis is far from over. Humanitarian aid budgets face dire shortfalls as the impact of the global pandemic continues to worsen. Together, we must mobilise resources and stand in solidarity with people in their darkest hour of need. "