The New Humanitarian | Ten humanitarian crises and trends to watch in 2022

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Turmoil at the top is fuelling ever-rising needs on the ground in Afghanistan, Haiti, and Myanmar. These three countries saw seismic political shifts – the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan, the assasination of President Jovenal Moïse in Haiti, and the military coup in Myanmar – that not only worsened already tenuous crises, but will make emergency responses even more complex in 2022.

Why we’re watching

Each of these crises presents stark aid dilemmas, from donor reluctance to deal with the Taliban, to questions over humanitarian neutrality and how to engage with Myanmar’s junta (if at all), to the new challenge of grappling with Haiti’s gangs.

In Afghanistan, hunger is widespread and growing, the economy and public sectors are collapsing, and nearly the entire population may plunge below the poverty line in 2022. Humanitarian needs were dire long before, but Afghans are at the brink following the Taliban’s August 2021 surge and the international reaction to it. The donors that propped up post-9/11 regimes are running out of time to decide how to engage with the Taliban, and to find workarounds for getting billions in frozen funding flowing (issuing exemptions for Taliban sanctions was a start). Afghanistan’s emergency is also a crisis of rights – especially for women and girls who have found theirs scraped away under the Taliban. Gender-based violence is rising, women have fewer options for income and unequal healthcare or aid access (especially if female staff can’t work), and they sacrifice more to cope.

Like Afghanistan, Haiti was in crisis mode long before its political upheaval. But President Moïse’s killing pushed the country deeper into turmoil, and rising gang violence is making it even harder to respond to the growing humanitarian needs. The gang violence has displaced some 20,000 people, fanned new waves of migration, and shut down hospitals amid the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 40 percent of the population will need food aid well into 2022, driven in part by the political instability and a pair of August 2021 disasters – a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that killed some 2,200 people, and Tropical Storm Grace, which battered Haiti’s southern peninsula days later. 

The February 2021 military coup in Myanmar worsened long-simmering conflicts and ignited a nationwide civil disobedience movement (and an armed resistance). Humanitarian access, already volatile under the quasi-civilian governments of the past decade, is even more constricted. The military junta is launching increasingly violent crackdowns, often amid near-total internet blackouts. The topline figures are a sign of the humanitarian fallout since the coup: nearly 300,000 newly displaced, at least 1,300 civilians killed (and thousands more arrested), a tripling in the number of people who need emergency aid. The ground-level impacts are even clearer: struggling farmers; food shortages for families hiding in jungles; malnutrition in deteriorating bamboo shelters that badly need repair; and local aid workers – increasingly targeted by the military – steering clandestine aid trips under the cover of night. “From a humanitarian perspective, the situation has changed from complex to chaotic,” said a coordinator with a local NGO in Myanmar’s north.

Keep in mind

The legacies of colonialism, occupation, and empire-building echo in each country’s present-day instability. Homegrown solutions and demands for new approaches from local aid workers and civil society continue to find a voice. But the international side of the aid sector – powered by mainly Western donor budgets and top-down plans – has never been quick to embrace change.

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