The purpose of this site is to promote and strengthen humanitarian action, to shed light on the link between humanitarian and geopolitical issues and finally, to identify and document the major challenges which are as many threats, such as the Covid-19 epidemic.This assessment and these perspectives are of course not exhaustive. Rather, they seek to highlight some facts and trends and, in conclusion, to illustrate the action of this site which intends to be a humanitarian actor in its own way.
To get to the heart of the matter, the two major facts that mark 2020 have been the global spread of the Covid-19 virus from China and the continuation, if not the deterioration, of the main conflicts. Let us also mention the 5th National Humanitarian Conference (CNH) in Paris on December 17th to which all the articles are devoted in this edition.
The year 2020 will go down in history as the year of Covid-19. Appeared at the beginning of the year (December-January), the virus then spread rapidly on a global scale.
According to the WHO, as of January the 5th of 2021, there were 84 million cases and 1,800,000 deaths worldwide. While the most worrying prognoses have fortunately been thwarted in Africa, where health systems are weakened, there are 64,790 deaths and 2,280,488 cases, nearly half of which are in South Africa. Currently, the pandemic is most deadly in Europe and the Americas.
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates the economic losses at $1 trillion and, while the most developed countries have succeeded in mobilizing the resources necessary to protect their population, this is not the case for 6 billion human beings, including a large and unskilled workforce, highly dependent on the informal economy.
The other humanitarian front is the one of the major crises that have not diminished – quite the contrary – and none of them have been resolved: whether it is Yemen on the brink of famine, the Middle East and particularly Syria, or northeastern Nigeria. Nothing positive either for the Rohingyas in Myanmar and Bangladesh or in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo where chaos is thriving. As for the Sahel, the military and security situation continue to deteriorate and is leading always more populations into vulnerability.
In this chaotic context, humanitarians aid workers have been facing the interruption of almost all air transport, the closure of borders and thus supply chains. They had to show resilience, adaptation and innovation. This is why the NGOs of the Humanitarian Logistics Network (Réseau Logistique Humanitaire – RLH), in complementarity with the World Food Programme (WFP), set up a European humanitarian air bridge with the help of the Crisis and Support Center (Centre de Crise et de Soutien – CDCS) of the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs and the European Commission with ECHO. It enabled to organize 42 flights to priority destinations, to transport 1208 passengers and 785 tons of freight. Adaptation is a key word for humanitarian action, which must draw all the lessons learned in 2020 in order to implement them in 2021.
Let us recall that at the end of 2019, the United Nations (OCHA) launched a call for $29 billion for 2020 to help 168 million people, 22 million more than the previous year. Since then, Covid-19 has greatly increased the most basic needs.
“The Covid-19 pandemic changed the landscape of humanitarian response by making 235 million people dependent on international aid. This is a 40% increase over the same period last year,” according to Mark Lowcock, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.
According to David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme, Nobel Peace laureate in 2020, “the Covid-19 pandemic threatens to trigger another ‘pandemic’, that of famine”. He adds, “A total of 270 million people will face extreme hunger in 2021. He also points out that about 3 million children die of hunger and malnutrition every year in the world.
In fact, an increasing number of populations are at risk in countries already facing serious humanitarian crises such as Yemen, Burkina Faso, Southern Sudan, Northeastern Kenya and Afghanistan and the Sahel are very vulnerable. Syria will still be at the forefront of basic needs with an additional 2 million people to be assisted.
This crisis overlaps and accelerates another one, that of refugees and displaced persons in the world. While the average number of refugees and displaced persons was 40 million between 1990 and 2010, this figure will rise to almost 80 million in 2019 and is expected to increase further as a result of a virus bringing vulnerabilities, tensions and conflicts.
While none of the major conflicts are on the way to appeasement and resolution, we fear that some may even lead to famines as in Yemen. The explosion in the port of Beirut, the war in Nagorno Karabakh, the serious risk of an intensification of the conflict in Afghanistan, which is experiencing a chronic shortage of cereals, are early signs of deterioration which have clearly led the UN to launch a record appeal of 35 billion dollars for 230 million people in need in 2021 against an appeal of 29 billion dollars last year.
But will the mobilization of financial resources get along with the urgency of the needs? Many voices are worried, including that of UN Secretary-General Antonio Gueterres, and fear “terrible cuts” given the economic losses and massive investments in social protection in OECD countries that are the main donors of international aid.
And since the vaccine is arriving and vaccination is starting, especially in the most affected countries, vaccination in the most fragile and exposed countries must already be planned according to this or that mechanism, in particular the one set up by the World Health Organization (ACT, COVAX).
In such a situation, which will last – and no doubt worsen over time this year – humanitarian aid is the life insurance for populations at risk and it must work quickly and effectively.
What added value for the 5th National Humanitarian Conference?
During the 5th National Humanitarian Conference held on December 17 in Paris in the presence of the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, the latter asked the crucial question “what is most urgent”?
Mark Lowcock answered without hesitation “famine and aid to the most fragile countries. The European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid, Janez Lenarcic, prioritized “the impact of Covid-19 on the world economy and the social consequences”. For Philippe Jahshan, President of Coordination Sud, which brings together humanitarian and development NGOs, “the emergency is the supply chains and the mobilization of massive financial resources to avoid the worst”. As we can see, these priorities are intertwined and complement each other.
If we try to briefly summarize this NHC, knowing that we will come back to it in the next edition at the beginning of February, we can say that the main expectations of humanitarian NGOs were the following:
- That the Covid-19 crisis serve as a spurt for the anticipation of crises, prevention, mutualization and reinforcement of complementarity between international and national actors.
- That the budgetary commitments for ODA (0.55% of GNI) and humanitarian aid (500 ME) be met in 2022.
- That International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality and independence be respected and that access to populations in danger be allowed.
- To refuse the screening of aid beneficiaries under IHL, for the access of aid and the security of humanitarians in the field of crises.
- To limit security screening of providers, partners and staff at the beginning of each new program and then on a regular basis of 2 to 3 times a year depending on the case.
- To strengthen humanitarian-development synergy in conjunction with local actors without being in charge of peace, which is the responsibility of political decision-makers.
- That all humanitarian actors take fully into account in their action the fight against climate change, for the environment and biodiversity.
- That humanitarian actors benefit from an exemption from the anti-terrorist laws that put them at risk and that French criminal law integrates IHL.
After noting that impunity was becoming the rule and that security was deteriorating dangerously for humanitarians, Emmanuel Macron declared “France will be your ally”.
The President of the Republic made the following commitments:
- Re-commitment to Official Development Assistance, a moratorium on the debt of African countries, and the issuance of monetary drawing rights. Following the recent G20 summit, France will organize a Summit on the financing of African economies in May 2021 in Paris.
- It supports the creation of a post of special correspondent to the UN Secretary General for the preservation of humanitarian space.
- He proposes the creation of a joint technical commission to strengthen the investigation of crimes against humanitarians.
- That a solution be found within the next 6 months to facilitate NGO bank transfers and the publication of a “Pedagogical Guide”.
- The President asked the Keeper of the Seals (the French Lord Chancellor) to send a circular to all public prosecutors’ offices in France to make them aware of the IHL that applies to NGOs.
- He evoked an improvement in the exemption from sanctions for NGOs, on a case-by-case basis, in the face of anti-terrorist laws.
- He reiterated his commitment that France will devote 0.55% of its GNI to ODA in 2022 on an increasing trajectory, as well as a budget of 500 ME for humanitarian aid.
- In this 48th edition of Défis Humanitaires you will find several articles on the CNH and we will come back to it in our next edition at the beginning of February.
And to conclude, assessment and outlooks for the Défis Humanitaires website.
As a site publishing these articles, analyses, interviews, we also wish to share with you a summary of our achievements in 2020 and our projects this year.
In 2020, we published 13 editions and 51 articles written by 30 authors. The number of readers was 33,529 for 21,370 in 2019 and 11,116 in 2018. This tripling of the number of readers is a good indication of the interest generated by Défis Humanitaires and we thank you and the authors for their contribution.
The 10 most read articles were about the NHC, the protection and exemption of humanitarians from anti-terrorist laws, Covid-19, the Sahel, the humanitarian’s security and demography in the Sahel.
This year, we plan to update and promote the site’s model, strengthen the editorial staff, improve the photos, publish a monthly edition and, finally, publish the 2nd edition of the Study on French humanitarian NGOs abroad for the period 2006 – 2019.
But let’s be frank, in order to achieve this, we need your financial support. To continue and develop after 3 years and 48 editions, this free site now needs some financial resources. You will find the presentation of this project for which we thank you in advance for your donation on HelloAsso.
I present you my best wishes for you and your loved ones for the new year.