Meeting the global humanitarian needs of the world in 2016 will require five times more money than a decade ago, according to the United Nations. The 2016 global humanitarian appeal asks for $20.1 billion to assist more than 125 million people, representing a global challenge not seen since World War II.
“Suffering in the world has reached levels not seen in a generation. Conflicts and disasters have driven millions of children, women and men to the edge of survival. They desperately need our help,” said Stephen O’Brien, U.N. under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator.
There are currently more than 60 million people displaced from their homes. The U.N. says that conflicts in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and Yemen are behind most of the need next year. It is a problem that gained global attention in recent months following the surge of refugees from Syria and Iraq who are seeking asylum in Europe. A backlash against refugees in the West has given rise to right-wing political parties in Europe and calls for ending resettlement by U.S. political leaders.
And, as always, the amount of money needed to respond to global humanitarian needs right now is grossly under-funded. The U.N.’s 2015 appeal of $19.9 billion is only 49 percent funded. With more money needed for next year, it is a sure thing that the world will again fall short.
“The international humanitarian system is all too often the only safety net that exists for people fleeing wars. It has to be funded on a scale that’s realistic and commensurate with today’s immense challenges,” said António Guterres, U.N. high commissioner for refugees. “It is clear that with the present level of resources, we are not able to provide even the very minimum in both core protection and life-saving assistance.”
That safety net is under severe strain. Food rations for refugees from Syria, Iraq and in Kenya were cut at various points this year, due to funding shortfalls. More than 1.6 million refugees saw cuts in their food assistance in 2015. Countries stepped up in 2014 as the Ebola crisis peaked and made similar pledges in response to the worsening refugee crisis in 2015. But the cumulative problems, both emerging and long-standing, outpace global efforts. Food-ration cuts are emblematic of the kinds of constraints that humanitarian agencies face in mounting an adequate response.
The majority of the humanitarian crises are long-term. Yet, operations and funding focus heavily on the short term. It takes years before the average refugee returns home, requiring more steady support and long-term solutions. The shortfall of funding and an already over-stretched global response leaves the humanitarian industry looking at a month-to-month response. That has to change.
“Humanitarian response must be understood as an investment in people, not as a sunk cost,” said Ahmad Faizal Perdaus, chair of the International Council of Voluntary Agencies. “Investing to help those in need provides returns however we measure it – in human life and dignity it’s priceless of course, but also in financial terms. The real price being paid today is by those who are hungry, are without safety, fleeing war and terror.”