COVID-19 has triggered the deepest global recession since the 1930s. Extreme poverty has risen for the first time in 22 years, and unemployment has increased dramatically. Women and young people aged 15 – 29, working in the informal sector are being hit the hardest. School closures have affected 91 per cent of students worldwide.
Political conflicts are more intense and are taking a heavy toll on civilians, disproportionately affecting children. Women and girls are at increased risk of conflict-related sexual violence. Attacks against aid and health workers persist. For the ninth consecutive year, more than 90 per cent of casualties from explosive weapons in populated areas were civilians.
The last decade saw the highest ever number of people internally displaced by conflict and violence, with many locked in a state of protracted displacement. There are an estimated 51 million new and existing IDPs, and the number of refugees has doubled to 20 million.
Hunger is on the rise, with conflict the main driver of acute hunger for 77 million people in 22 countries. By the end of 2020, the number of acutely food insecure people could be 270 million. The impacts of the pandemic and climate change are seriously affecting food systems worldwide. Funding requirements for food security in humanitarian appeals have risen to $9 billion in 2020, up from $5 billion in 2015.
The last 10 years were the hottest on record. Increasingly severe and frequent weather events and natural disasters are exacerbating chronic vulnerabilities. Additional climatic changes are expected from La Niña through the first quarter of 2021, affecting sea temperatures, rainfall patterns and hurricane activity.
Disease outbreaks are increasing and the pandemic has hindered essential health services in almost every country. Hard-won gains are at risk. More than 5 million children under 5 years of age face the threats of cholera and acute watery diarrhea. The pandemic could wipe out 20 years of progress in HIV, TB and Malaria, potentially doubling annual death tolls.
COVID-19 made life harder for already vulnerable groups, including women and girls, people with disabilities, older people and those with mental health needs. Almost 24 million children, adolescents and young people are at risk of not returning to school in 2020, including 11 million girls and young women.
Fear of the virus is spreading faster than the virus itself. The pandemic and measures to contain it are revealing mental health and psychosocial consequences in all countries, particularly in humanitarian settings where resources for mental health and psychosocial support are either scarce or non-existent.
COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on the full extent of gender inequality and women and girls’ exposure to gender-based violence (GBV). Adolescent girls in conflict zones are 90 per cent more likely to be out of school and 70 per cent of women in humanitarian settings are more likely to experience GBV. Globally, quarantine measures are exacerbating domestic violence, with 15 million new cases predicted for every three months of lockdown.
Young people are shaping global trends. Despite facing bleak employment prospects and the impacts of COVID-19, young people have mobilized at an unprecedented scale. This presents an opportunity for the humanitarian system to further integrate the perspectives and leadership of young people into humanitarian action.
Increased global Internet access and new innovative technologies offer potential to improve humanitarian action. During the pandemic, artificial intelligence is being used for outbreak mapping, drones are delivering medical supplies and testing samples, and 3D printers are supporting the production of face shields and ventilators.
Collaboration between humanitarian, development and peacebuilding efforts has increased during the pandemic. Building on this cooperation will help meet the needs of the 160 million people targeted for humanitarian assistance in 2021.
Inter-Agency Coordinated Appeals
The Global Humanitarian Response Plan (GHRP) for COVID-19, together with existing humanitarian appeals, became the largest-ever financial ask: $39 billion. As of November 2020, donors have generously given $17 billion to inter-agency plans.
In 2021, 235 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection. This means 1 in 33 people worldwide needs help - a significant increase from the 1 in 45 people a year ago, which was already the highest figure in decades. The UN and partner organizations aim to help 160 million people most in need across 56 countries, which will require $35 billion.
Progress has been made on gender equality in humanitarian response. For example, all project submissions to the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) for 2020 were informed by a gender analysis and completed the mandatory Gender and Age Marker, and the Inter-Agency Standing Committee completed the first-ever Inter- Agency Humanitarian Evaluation on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls. In 2020, CERF allocated over $60 million to GBV-focused programmes.
CERF and the Country-based Pooled Funds (CBPFs) are helping us reach the most vulnerable people. Priority has been placed on education in protracted crises, promoting the involvement of affected groups in humanitarian response and protection, and combating GBV.
Local communities – including local business networks – play a prominent role in meeting humanitarian needs. The COVID-19 pandemic and its effects highlighted the advantages of response, recovery and coordination efforts led by local organizations. The best people to communicate in local contexts are those with existing trusted relationships.
Local people require greater involvement in response activities and deciding priorities for frontline response. More support should be offered through appropriate funding to local and national organizations. In 2020 CBPFs allocated a total of $236 million to local and national NGOs.
Cash is being used more effectively and efficiently. COVID-19 highlighted the value of cash and voucher assistance to meet basic needs, support local markets and re-invigorate economies. Over 200 countries have initiated or expanded social protection systems since March 2020.
Humanitarian organizations are getting better at responding to and assessing the needs of affected people. By working together and looking more holistically at the ways in which a person experiences a disaster, a clearer picture emerges of the variety of needs an individual and their community may face.
International responders prepared themselves to address emergencies occurring during the pandemic. This preparation was evident in the response to the Beirut port explosions, where international teams were tested before departure. They used remote collaboration, social media and online platforms to comply with health and safety protocols and prevent additional COVID-19 infections.