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Humanitarian action will be increasingly overwhelmed without real political commitment

A Concern tarpaulin distribution to displaced families at Katale in North Kivu. Photo: Kieran McConville/ Concern Worldwide
A Concern tarpaulin distribution to displaced families at Katale in North Kivu.
News1 December 2020Makayla Palazzo

The latest UN report clearly demonstrates that, in the absence of increased political commitment by global powers, the humanitarian system will continue to struggle against an increasing wave of crises.  

2020 has been a challenging year for everyone around the globe, but it has been devastating for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. The 2021 Global Humanitarian Overview (GHO) was released by the United Nations today, and it projects increasingly complex and ever-more politically driven threats to those in need. 2020 saw political conflict, record numbers of displaced people, more severe and frequent natural disasters, a rise in global hunger, and the deepest global recession since the 1930s. These threats have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and are expected to continue or worsen in the next year if nothing is done to address them [United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 2021 Global Humanitarian Overview, 2020].

To respond to the 34 ongoing humanitarian crises worldwide, the 2021 GHO appeals for $35 billion to help 160 million people in need. But unless there is significant political action taken to prevent and end humanitarian crises, the lives of these 160 million people will remain largely unchanged. Humanitarian assistance is critical in meeting needs and saving lives, but can do little to address the problems that lead to needs in the first place. In the absence of political solutions, crises have become more complex, prolonged, and deadly each year, which translates to more people in need and higher costs for the global community to help them [European Commission, Humanitarian Crises Around the World are Becoming Longer and More Complex, 2020].

Concern nurse Beatrice welcomes mothers and children at an outreach centre in rural Kenya. Photo: Jennifer Nolan
Concern nurse Beatrice welcomes mothers and children at an outreach centre in rural Kenya. Photo: Jennifer Nolan

The 2021 GHO presents an opportunity for donor governments to not only fund humanitarian appeals but also commit leadership and political power toward creating solutions to crises. This could include a return to multilateralism after a year marked by departures from political compacts and global institutions. It could mean improved cooperation in the UN Security Council where deadlock has prevented or severely delayed the passage of important resolutions related to conflict. It could also include more international political pressure on governments known to be carrying out human rights violations and targeting civilians in combat.

A commitment to ending humanitarian crises is not only the morally “right” thing to do, but it benefits donor governments as well; global refugee and migration crises continue to cause political tension in donor countries [International Organisation for Migration, World Migration Report 2020, 2020], and as a global pandemic rages on, successfully overcoming Covid-19 will hinge on defeating it in the world’s poorest countries. [World Health Organisation, A global pandemic requires a world effort to end it – none of us will be safe until everyone is safe, 2020].

The former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, famously said “there are no humanitarian solutions to humanitarian problems.” [Dev Policy, Prevent Conflict, Avert Humanitarian Crises, 2019] She meant that humanitarian assistance isn't going to solve the conflict and natural disasters that affect people's lives. In the two decades since she spoke those words, humanitarian problems have only become worse, while political actors and institutions have mostly stood on the sidelines. The 2021 GHO and the unprecedented challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic can be the impetus for real change if donor governments commit to the political solutions so desperately needed to solve the world’s humanitarian problems.


Makayla champions some of the most pressing issues for people living in fragile and conflict-affected states. In addition to representing Concern at major forums (including the United Nations, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, Interaction, and meetings of the United States Government), her role involves liaising with country teams on relevant issues, analyzing crisis contexts and events, supporting key advocacy strategies across the organization, and building relationships with major advocacy stakeholders in New York and DC.

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