YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the international development arm, of the U.S. bishops, has listed the world’s top humanitarian crises to watch in 2022.
From the threat of famine in Afghanistan and Ethiopia to terrorism in the Sahel, the crises will be worsened by the spreading COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and political upheaval.
At least 274 million people worldwide will require humanitarian support, according to the United Nations, and this marks a 17 percent rise from 2021.
“As the planet gets hotter, Western nations, which have more resources, will be able to cope with the changes to the weather. However, in low-income countries, there are no such safety nets,” Kim Pozniak, CRS senior director of global communications, told Crux.
Following are excerpts of that interview….
Crux: Catholic Relief Services responded to a number of crises around the world in 2021. Which would you say were the most challenging?
All the crises included in our 2022 crises list — such as Afghanistan, Haiti, and Yemen — are challenging to deal with in their own ways. Yet what they have in common is COVID-19. As we enter our third year of the pandemic, COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc all over the world. Beyond disrupting health care systems, COVID-19-related supply chain disruptions, lockdowns, and travel restrictions have made the crises in these countries worse. That’s why we need to make sure vaccines become far more accessible. Until more people are vaccinated in low-income countries, we’ll continue to see these challenges play out for the foreseeable future.
Where do you think CRS succeeded and where could you have done better?
Since the onset of the pandemic, CRS has adapted our emergency response and development programming to the COVID-19 context. For example, we have modified evacuation centers for greater safety, sanitation, and physical distancing, and we’ve integrated physical distancing measures into our relief distributions.
Since March 2020, CRS has reached more than 28 million people with COVID‑19 response activities. We continue to focus on vaccination and vaccine rollout support. Meanwhile, comprehensive CRS programming continues to help extremely vulnerable families and communities as they manage the long‑term impacts of the pandemic.
However, some crises are more complex than others — making it harder to deliver aid. For example, in Haiti, ongoing political unrest and gang violence have at times jeopardized our humanitarian and development activities. Roads become impassable. Unfortunately, most of these circumstances are beyond our control – and people suffer as a result.
CRS has come up with a list of eight top humanitarian crises to watch in 2022. Three of them are in Africa. Are these radically different from 2021 or are they the same?
In the words of the late Desmond Tutu, many countries in Africa — such as those on our list — are suffering from “adaptation apartheid,” which gets worse by the year. As we’ve seen first-hand in our work, climate change is deepening global inequality. As the planet gets hotter, Western nations, which have more resources, will be able to cope with the changes to the weather. However, in low-income countries, there are no such safety nets. Poor farming communities from Madagascar to Niger are being decimated by drought. We’ll likely see far more suffering from climate change in low-income countries in the years ahead.
The Ethiopia crisis is seen by CRS as the second most important crisis spot to watch in 2022. How big is it?
The crisis in Ethiopia continues unabated, with more than 8 million people affected throughout the country, including some 2 million people who have been displaced from their homes. Millions need food and other lifesaving assistance. With power outages, water shortages, and bank closures in Tigray, men and women are struggling to find medical care, food, water, hygiene supplies and shelter.
How would you assess CRS’s interventions in Ethiopia in 2021 and what plans do you have for 2022?
Since the start of the conflict, CRS has provided food to 3 million people in the affected region. CRS has also supported malnutrition screenings and has provided living supplies; cash assistance; shelter construction for the displaced; clean water and hygiene kits; and construction of water infrastructure. Once access to the most affected areas permits, we hope to reach up to 6.5 million people with food aid.
The same question can be asked of the crises in Madagascar, which comes third in your listing, and the Sahel which comes in eighth position. Why should they be watched closely and what does CRS plan to do in the next year?
In the Sahel, the combination of conflict, climate change, and COVID-19 has had a staggering effect on the humanitarian situation, which we anticipate will get worse in the year ahead. For Madagascar, drought is crippling farming communities in the south. Of course, the spread of COVID-19 complicates these contexts.
One of the most important points we’ve been making for the last year is about the need for vaccine equity. According to a World Health Organization survey of 25 African nations, an average of 27 percent of healthcare workers are fully vaccinated, compared with 80 percent healthcare workers in high-income countries like the U.S. Such a disparity is shocking. CRS will continue to advocate for vaccine equity in the next year –and until we close this gap.
Obviously, such interventions require funding. How much funding do you think you will require next year, and how do you go about getting the money?
Despite the pandemic, giving to CRS has been strong and is growing. While the lockdowns and restrictions might have changed how we connect with our donors – more virtual, less in person — the underlying fundamentals have not changed. Generally, our donors are driven by their faith, and they give generously during emergencies — especially when the media coverage of an emergency spikes. We also benefit from generous public and institutional donor funds.
Yet, even with this vital support from our diverse donors, we fear that not enough attention or funding is being directed toward the urgent crises that are far from the spotlight (for example, the hunger crises in South Sudan and southern Madagascar), and that critical resources have fallen short to meet humanitarian needs in many areas.