As 2020 begins it is clear that the global humanitarian overview is worsening. Deepening crises across Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle-East, and, Latin America and the Caribbean presage growing challenges to the humanitarian community. While each region presents its own challenges and unique context, broadly speaking, a range of factors have created conditions which have the capacity to boil over in the coming months. These include, increased environmental precarity due, in no small part, to the deepening global climate crisis, displacement, the spread of disease and political strife and conflict. Moreover, the knock-on effect of previous humanitarian emergencies experienced over the last decade which, for affected populations, have barely subsided increases pressure on already fragile contexts. This, coupled with an ever more unstable international order unwilling to engage in all but narrow interests and ongoing economic carve-up of the Global South, heavily implies 2020 and the coming years will present serious serious global challenges to an already strained system. As such, here are five coming inflection points that will undoubtedly shape the humanitarian context for 2020 and beyond.
The ‘three-country crisis’ engulfing the border regions of the contiguous African states of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger is worsening. Insecurity caused by extremism and aloof central governments, especially in Mali, has caused the displacement of nearly a million people across the three states. Furthermore, ongoing anti-terrorism operations conducted primarily by France in the region have fractured extremist groups while fomenting deep anti-Western sentiment and, as such, fostered an inchoate upsurge in extremism rather than a sustained demise. The resultant violence and insecurity, displacement (particularly a 500% increase in Burkina Faso since 2018) and a shrinking humanitarian space coupled with extreme poverty has created conditions for a perfect storm. This may well manifest itself in a man-made famine in the coming months in spite of satisfactory agricultural production across the Sahel.
Democratic Republic of Congo
While the continuing proliferation of Ebola dominated discourse regarding the DRC in 2019, it was not by any means the only issue facing the country. Less reported outbreaks of measles and cholera lead to the deaths of over 5000 people in the country while mounting conflict and insecurity in the north-eastern province of Ituri and the highland of South Kivu displaced some 300,000. Moreover, while Ebola has, to some degree, subsided in the face of effective responses, the consequences of the epidemic will live on: weak rule of law and ineffectual multilateral peacekeeping operations in Ebola zones have increased contention amongst various armed actors and conflict-related insecurity has surged. Moreover, neighbouring Uganda faces a growing crisis within its borders due to large scale displacement of Congolese.
One of the world’s newest countries, officially established in 2011 following a years-long internecine ethnoreligious conflict, South Sudan had a difficult birth, fraught formative year and its troubles seem likely to continue. A weak central power and ineffectual security forces accused of a litany of human rights abuses have eroded any semblance of institutional trust. Moreover, a patchwork of violent non-state actors in tandem with concurrent climatic shocks, including deadly floods in 2019, have racked the nation displacing thousands and has created a complex humanitarian emergency that does not look set to abate in the near future. Relatedly, South Sudan is considered one of the most dangerous places on earth for aid workers who need to navigate the country’s often confusing power structures and proliferation of armed actors. Despite the situation within South Sudan, there has been some measured progress in creating a unity government, however, this is a grinding peace process and, as such, the humanitarian outlook remains bleak.
Haiti, the Western Hemisphere’s oldest republic, is still reeling from the devastating 2010 earthquake which killed hundreds of thousands, displaced over a million people and crippled the country’s already fragile infrastructure. According to the World Food Programme, currently, more than one in three of Haiti’s almost 11 million inhabitants are in need of urgent food assistance. Of course, the earthquake piled increased pressure onto deep existing socio-economic problems within Haiti. Resultant mass unemployment amongst internally displaced persons still residing in squalid camps on the margins of the capital Port-au-Prince and elsewhere with scant access to vital food and medicine has fomented a sense of hopelessness amongst Haitians. Worse still, concurrent droughts, including in summer 2019 have racked the country destroying agriculture. These factors combined with a dismal economic outlook and an ineffectual and corrupt political class have led to serious political unrest which brought the country to a standstill in September 2019 and things look set to come to another inflection point in the months to follow.
Following the NATO-backed ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has become a plaything for great power competition. Carved into fiefdoms by various armed actors with the backing of a host of international actors including, but not limited to, Egypt, the US, UAE, France, Russia and Turkey, an initial civil conflict simmered down following the formation of the UN-sponsored Government of National Accord (GNA) in 2016. Despite this there remains little in the way of formal security forces beholden to central power, rather, a patchwork of loosely aligned militias under the auspices of the GNA maintains a tenuous hold on the north-east of the county with little hope of projecting power beyond. Meanwhile, the Libyan National Army under General Haftar, a former ally of Gaddafi, controls vast swathes of the interior and north-west including Benghazi. Militant Islamist groups are also present in the south. A relatively low-intensity conflict limited mostly to aerial interdiction and away from urban centres has continued since the initial chaos of the revolution and subsequent civil conflict. This looks set to change and intensify as Haftar seeks to consolidate his power and move into GNA controlled urban centres, including a recent unsuccessful bid for the city of Misrata. If the conflict extends in earnest to urban centres, given Libya’s already extremely fragile situation, a looming catastrophe awaits.
Photo by Fernando @dearferdo on Unsplash
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