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U.N. launches another record humanitarian appeal that will likely fall short

A Syrian refugee raises her arms in surrender after mistaking the camera lens for a gun. (Credit: Osman Sağırlı)

The United Nations issued another record appeal, asking for $22.2 billion in humanitarian crisis response funding for 2017.

The appeal is 10 percent higher than last year’s $19.7 billion appeal, which is only half funded, despite immense need. There are 92.8 million people in 33 countries who need help. But given the funding trend, the 2017 appeal will fall short.

“The scale of humanitarian crises today is greater than at any time since the United Nations was founded. Not in living memory have so many people needed our support and solidarity to survive and live in safety and dignity,” said Stephen O’Brien, undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, at the launch of the appeal today in Geneva.

Since its first appeal in 1991, the U.N. pulls together funding to meet the needs for country-level and regional humanitarian response plans. The money covers everything from food aid and medical supplies to shelter and education.

Funding needs consistently grew over the past decade only to accelerate with the Syrian Civil War and related regional crises. In 2012, the total appeal was $7.7 billion. For 2017, U.N. officials said they need $8 billion for Syria alone. This year’s appeal is 52.4 percent funded – totaling $10.3 billion – which means that Syria’s needs would eat up nearly all of the appeal funding for 2016.

Credit: UN OCHA

U.N. humanitarian appeals and funding levels 2006 to 2016. (Credit: U.N. OCHA)

This year’s appeal is up 700 percent from 1992. As the appeals increase, so do the funding gaps. The U.N. must spread what money it has across all of its work. It forces agencies to make tough decisions, like cutting food rations.

“The lives of millions of women, girls, boys and men are in our hands,” said O’Brien. “By responding generously and delivering fully on this appeal we will prove to them that we will not let them down.”

Conflict is driving the need behind the record appeal, particularly in Syria, South Sudan, Yemen and Nigeria. South Sudan and Yemen follow Syria in terms of financial need, totaling $4.4 billion. The trio of Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan represent about 30 million of the people in need of humanitarian support.

“More than 80 percent of the needs stem from man-made conflicts, many of which are now protracted and push up demand for relief year after year,” O’Brien told the media, according to the Associated Press.

Military and diplomatic efforts to end civil wars in Yemen, South Sudan and Syria have yet to succeed. Recent warnings by O’Brien and other humanitarians predict more violence in South Sudan and Syria.

A shift toward nationalism in Europe and the United States raise questions about just how underfunded the 2017 appeal will be. U.K. Development Secretary Priti Patel is an aid skeptic. U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, who ran on nationalist policies, is raising concern that his administration would divert international humanitarian spending to domestic priorities.

The United States gives more than any other country to humanitarian efforts. Its $3 billion toward the 2016 appeal is more than twice that of Germany’s, the second-largest contributor.

The appeal doesn’t cover all global humanitarian spending. Individual organizations take in other funds and governments provide funding through other means. However, it is a benchmark for needs year to year.

“When appeals are not funded, people in crises suffer,” O’Brien said, in a statement to the Washington Post. “More people do not have their humanitarian needs met and some may risk death as a consequence. Children lose years of schooling and illnesses associated with malnutrition are not treated.”


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]