Why is the world's humanitarian aid gap getting bigger?
A displaced Palestinian boy, who fled his house due to Israeli strikes, sits on a water canister at a tent camp, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, January 18, 2024. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
What’s the context?
Donors are lagging as wars and climate change push global aid needs to record highs, with vulnerable groups hit by the cash crisis
- As funding gap grows, aid agencies fear worse to come
- World Food Programme saw 60% shortfall in 2023
- Frozen funds could unlock millions for humanitarian crises
LONDON – Nearly 300 million people around the world will need humanitarian aid in 2024, according to the United Nations, but after a record shortfall in donations last year, aid workers are bracing for the funding crisis to continue.
Only a little more than one-third of the $57 billion required to provide aid was funded last year, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said in its annual assessment of global humanitarian needs.
The gap prompted the UNOCHA to reduce the size of its annual aid appeal in December, urging donors to provide $46.4 billion to carry out the global aid response in 2024.
So why is the aid gap growing and what sectors are most in need?
How much is the global aid bill?
This year, the U.N. is targeting the lowest ever percentage of people in need based on its capacity to deliver - some 180 million of the 299 million people estimated to require assistance, UNOCHA has said.
The biggest share - some $19 billion - is earmarked for sub-Saharan Africa, followed by $13.9 billion for the Middle East and North Africa, including assistance to Palestinians affected by the war in Gaza and more than 32 million Syrians.
Separately, the U.N. children's agency UNICEF has appealed for $9.3 billion to help vaccinate, educate, feed and protect 94 million children, while the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, is aiming to raise over $10 billion to manage record levels of displacement worldwide.
The World Health Organization has called on donors to raise $1.5 billion for the year ahead, after a significant drop in funding last year.
Why is the aid gap growing?
UNOCHA's assessment of global aid needs reached a high of almost $57 billion in 2023 as new conflicts, more frequent climate emergencies and rising food insecurity forced more people to face multiple, protracted crises.
Growing debt is forcing some countries to spend more on interest payments than on measures to abate emergencies – dragging out crises and increasing their reliance on external aid.
At the same time, some wealthy donor countries have been cutting their aid spending.
In 2023, the United States cut its contributions to the International Committee of the Red Cross and Britain confirmed it would keep its official development assistance at 0.5% of gross national income - after reducing it from 0.7% during the COVID-19 pandemic - until its fiscal situation improved.
Germany also plans to cut development assistance for 2024 by almost a billion euros.
Where are the biggest shortfalls?
Several U.N. programmes were cut in 2023 due to shortfalls in funding, with major setbacks felt by the World Food Programme (WFP) as it faces rising food insecurity driven by climate change, conflict and disruptions to global supply chains.
Some 571 million people were living in food poverty in 2023, 42 million more than in 2019, data research organisation Development Initiatives found. Acute food insecurity is expected to worsen in 18 hotspots across Africa and the Middle East in 2024, according to the WFP.
The WFP experienced a 60% funding shortfall in 2023. Cuts will affect nearly half of its 86 country operations, including programmes in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Yemen, Northern Syria and West Africa, which could push a further 24 million people into food insecurity.
The funding gap for hunger appeals grew by 23% in 2023, with 65% of needs unmet at the beginning of 2024.
Shelter, and water, sanitation and hygiene programs also face funding shortfalls, increasing people's exposure to disease, while Venezuela has received just over 30% of a $720 million U.N. appeal amid a long political and economic crisis.
Programmes related to gender equality have also been hit.
What's in store for the future?
In December, initial donations to the U.N.'s emergency fund CERF, the Central Emergency Response Fund, for 2024 totalled $419 million, exceeding 2023's contributions, with several donors announcing forthcoming pledges.
But despite some glimmers of hope, aid workers say they fear for the years ahead.
"Needs are exploding, while international solidarity is shrinking," Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, told Context.
He said the "loss and damage" fund launched at the COP28 climate conference in Dubai could help to reduce needs from climate emergencies in the future but will not help raise funds for those already facing destitution.
So far, about $656 million has been pledged towards the fund.
Egeland said Gulf countries should start contributing to coordinated humanitarian responses and that he hoped to see hundreds of millions of dollars stuck in frozen funds unlocked for aid packages.
In October, the U.N. gave the green light for a package of financial aid from frozen Venezuelan assets.
(Reporting by Beatrice Tridimas; Editing by Helen Popper.)
- Extreme weather
- Government aid
- War and conflict
- Loss and damage