Worldwide demand for humanitarian aid rises to record high, as more than 40% remains unmet

A Doctors Without Borders report warns of a huge shortfall in meeting the global need caused by armed conflict and climate change

Médicos Sin Fronteras
A Palestinian man amid the rubble from an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip's Nuseirat area.CONTACTO vía Europa Press
Diego Stacey

The many ongoing global crises caused by armed conflict and climate change have led to an unprecedented increase in humanitarian aid requirements. In 2022, the United Nations sought over $52 billion in funding for humanitarian aid, marking a 37% increase over the previous year. A report by Doctors Without Borders, in collaboration with the Institute of Studies on Conflict and Humanitarian Action (IECAH), stressed that this figure is expected to rise significantly in 2023 due to the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

The sharp rise in humanitarian need has widened the gap between funding requests and donations, both public and private, to unprecedented levels. In 2022, the U.N. requested a record $30.3 billion but ended the year with a historically high deficit of 42%. “Almost half of the money requested couldn’t be covered,” said Francisco Rey, IECAH’s co-director. “We’ve also noticed a very unequal response to different crises, which is highlighting an unfortunate double standard.” According to the report, just 10 crises received nearly two-thirds of all international humanitarian aid in 2022. Ukraine saw the highest increase in funding at 2,000%, followed by Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and Ethiopia.

The report also highlights concerns about the declining influence of the U.N. as the “legitimate representative of the international community” and its effectiveness in addressing current issues. The report cites the recent example of the U.N.’s inability to secure a ceasefire in Gaza due to the U.S. veto in the Security Council. IECAH’s co-director Jesús Núñez noted the U.N.’s waning influence and says the European Union has struggled to establish itself as a geopolitical actor by failing to establish a unified position on the conflict.

Patients at a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in Nigeria.
Patients at a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in Nigeria.MSF (MSF)

In 2022, around 406.6 million people required humanitarian assistance, which is a third more than the previous year. A quarter (107.5 million) of these were forcibly displaced from their homelands, particularly those who fled Ukraine to European countries or experienced internal displacement due to conflicts in Somalia and Myanmar. The report commended the EU’s quick response to Ukraine, contrasting it with other instances of inaction or neglect. The report also noted that 265.7 million people in 60 countries experienced food insecurity in 2022.

Aid from Spain

In addition to conflicts like those in Ukraine and Gaza, the international humanitarian aid system is also under pressure from natural disasters and the impacts of climate change. This year, earthquakes in Turkey, Syria, Morocco and Afghanistan exacted a severe humanitarian toll. There were also disasters like the September floods in Libya and summer wildfires in Europe. The Doctors Without Borders report projects that the U.N. will request a total of $54.9 billion in 2023, the highest amount since the annual report was first published 20 years ago. It also noted that Spain “has demonstrated its commitment” by increasing its humanitarian aid by 47% more than in 2021. “Ukraine, the Saharawi population, Palestine, Venezuela, Syria, Niger, Colombia, Afghanistan and Mali have received significant financing compared to other countries,” noted the report. Francisco Rey said Spain’s humanitarian diplomacy strategy announced last January “can serve as an umbrella, exerting political pressure on countries that violate international humanitarian law.” Spain has been a vocal critic of Israel’s indiscriminate bombing in Gaza, while condemning the Hamas attack on October 7 and advocating for a lasting ceasefire.

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