Humanitarian Challenges: Assessment 2020, Outlook 2021.

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.

Water distribution and Covid-19 safety precautions, Myanmar, 2020 / ©Solidarités International

Assessment 2020

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.

©Réseau Logistique Humanitaire

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.

Outlook 2021

“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.

Flood in Central African Republic, 2019 / ©Solidarités International

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.

Alain Boinet.

Humanitarian: questioning oneself in order to progress.

Humanitarian aid workers must regularly question themselves in order to make progress. This will be the case on 17 December 2020 during the National Humanitarian Conference (CNH) in Paris under the chairmanship of the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron. During this time of confinement, the CNH will be held by video conference. The 4 themes selected are all major challenges for humanitarian action.

What are the themes of this conference, what are the stakes for humanitarian workers?

  • The impact of sanctions regimes and anti-terrorist measures on humanitarian aid.

These are felt every day because of banking obstacles to the transfer of funds. In addition, there is a threat of “criminalisation” of humanitarians working in territories where terrorist groups operate. Finally, there is a challenge to humanitarian principles and security risks when certain donors ask for lists of aid recipients to be sent to them in order to check them against lists of suspects qualified as terrorists! Practical, rapid and controlled solutions are essential if humanitarian action is not to be paralysed in the long term. What are they?

  • The so-called “nexus” process, which aims to link and generate a logic of action and complementarity between the humanitarian and development phases in order to build peace.

This makes sense for states but not for humanitarian NGOs who are not in charge of peace or war. In times of war, peace results either from the victory of one side or from a negotiated political solution. Peace is then the result of a political process that does not involve humanitarians. Obviously, this is complex and deserves debate. And it does not, in principle, concern disaster or epidemic situations. How can the role of humanitarian actors in conflict situations be delineated while at the same time supporting basic essential services?

  • Respect for International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and humanitarian access are closely linked.

They are regularly under threat. It is an essential struggle both for the delivery of relief supplies and for the protection of civilians, the wounded and prisoners. How can this right and access be advanced and enforced?

  • The link between climate change and humanitarian aid.

How to act while protecting the environment, how to help populations adapt to the consequences of global warming and how to contain it. This is a vast question which is fairly new for humanitarian aid workers due to the constraints caused by crises. However, it is urgent to make a firm commitment to this issue. How can we proceed in the face of the scale and diversity of applications?

Finally, the Conference will be an opportunity to review the French Humanitarian Strategy 2018-2022, to review the funding instrument that is the Humanitarian Emergency Fund and to come back to the European Humanitarian Airlift of the spring in the face of the logistical consequences of the Covid-19.

Let us recall here that the CNH is prepared within the framework of the Humanitarian Coordination Group (GCH) which brings together humanitarian leaders with the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs and its Crisis and Support Centre every trimestre. This Conference, this Concertation Group and France’s humanitarian strategy are the result of the Boinet-Miribel Report submitted at its request in March 2009 to the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bernard Kouchner.  The first CNH took place in November 2011.

A demanding and ambitious Conference.

In addition to the issues specific to each of these 4 problems addressed in the framework of round tables, humanitarians are waiting to see the decisions of the Interministerial Council for International Cooperation and Development (CICID) chaired by the Prime Minister on 8 February 2018 confirmed. Decisions to increase Official Development Assistance (ODA) to 0.55% of GDP in 2022, according to an upward curve, as well as to endow the Humanitarian Emergency Fund (FUH) with a budget of €500M.

In addition, humanitarians propose that in the future 10% of the ODA budget should be devoted to humanitarian aid and that at least 13% of ODA should be implemented with NGOs who bring commitment, private funding, expertise, proximity and capacity to mobilise.

Finally, at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2020, the President of the Republic declared: “Together with French NGOs and our international partners, we are building an initiative to ensure the effectiveness of international law, the protection of humanitarian personnel and the fight against impunity”.

The President of the Republic Emmanuel Macron meets humanitarian, development, climate and environmental NGOs at the Elysée Palace.

Humanitarian NGOs in France are actively contributing with their analyses and proposals to this presidential initiative, from which they expect a great deal from all humanitarian actors in the world in terms of security, access and justice, knowing that it is up to them to assume their missions and responsibilities on their own.

Défis Humanitaires will keep you informed of this National Humanitarian Conference to which we will devote our next edition at the end of November. A report and an assessment will be published in January 2021.

To inform you, Défis Humanitaire needs you.

This Conference gives me the opportunity to talk to you for once about Défis Humanitaires. More and more of you are reading and subscribing to our site and the number of readers has tripled in 3 years to reach 36,000 readers this year, in France and many other countries. 70 authors have contributed on a large number of issues, because what characterises us is the diversity of subjects and organisations presented in a completely independent way.

However, to do more and better on the editorial level, to provide photos and videos, to share Défis Humanitaires with a greater number of readers and to publish our second study on humanitarian NGOs, I now need your support, whatever the amount of your donation, in order to do so. Although this site is free, its sustainability and development need your generosity. Thank you for your support.

In this issue you will find :

An article by Hamada AG AHMED on people’s resilience and local governance in Mali.

The presentation by Pierre Brunet of the book “Security and Development in the Sahel”.

An article by Lise Lacan and Madeleine Trentesaux presenting the international relief coordination mechanism for drinking water, hygiene and sanitation, the Global Wash Cluster.

And in the right-hand column of the site, we offer news from Afghanistan, the book on 40 years of Solidarités Internationale with podcasts, an ICRC study on the effects of war and climate change on the populations in southern Iraq, northern Mali and CAR.

Thank you very much for your donation to Défis Humanitaires, whose objective is to promote and improve humanitarian action.

Alain Boinet.