A global run for life!

Refugees from DRC waiting in line at the Nyakabande Transit Center in Kisoro, Uganda. BADRU KATUMBA / AFP (7 June 2022)

Refugees, conflicts, DRC, Ukraine, NATO, wheat, BRICS, humanitarian action!

130 days of war in Ukraine has already resulted in 5.5 million refugees and 6.28 million internally displaced people (IDP) out of a total population of 44 million. And the fighting is raging in the Donbass, driving people out of the frontline areas.

On June 20th , for the “World Refugee Day”, the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) announced that there were 89.3 million forcibly displaced people in the world at the end of 2021, but this number had risen to 100 million by May 2022. At the same time, in a positive development, 5.7 million displaced people returned to their country of origin in 2021.

Note that more than two-thirds of all refugees, not counting IDPs, come from just five countries: Syria (6.8 million), Venezuela (4.6 million), Afghanistan (2.7 million), South Sudan (2.4 million) and Myanmar (1.2 million). All five countries are experiencing civil wars or serious unrest.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), for example, more than 700,000 people have had to flee their homes since the beginning of the year, and there are 5.9 million internally displaced people in the country. But these raw figures need to be supplemented to better understand the human toll.

The United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in DRC, Philippe Lemarquis, denounces the 11 IDP sites attacked in Ituri by armed groups, in North and South Kivu, and the 15 health structures and schools targeted since the beginning of the year. In Ituri alone, 128 health structures have been put out of action. And what can be said about the 116 security incidents that have targeted humanitarians and their equipment!

In the DRC, as elsewhere, if we know that humanitarian work is never without risk, it is essential to constantly remind ourselves with strength and conviction that civilians must be protected and that humanitarians are not targets!

To put the figures into perspective, as Humanitarian Challenges suggests to its readers, in order to anticipate future crises and the humanitarian capacities needed to deal with them, let us stress that the number of refugees and displaced persons has more than doubled in ten years (2010-2020) and that conflicts and demography in Africa will further increase the number of people to be helped in the years to come if crisis prevention and political solutions are absent or ineffective!


Will we experience the “hurricane of famine” that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres fears?

Annia Ciezadio writes in The Washington Post (1) that 28% of the world’s wheat exports come from Ukraine and Russia, but that in total, exports only account for 30% of world production! Meanwhile, 22 million tonnes of grain are still blocked in Ukraine. And if Russian wheat is not subject to sanctions, these apply to the logistical and financial chains needed to sell and transport it.

When you consider that a third of the wheat imported by the Middle East and Africa comes from Russia and that half of the wheat of the WFP (World Food Programme of the United Nations) was coming from Ukraine and Russia in 2021, there is reason to be concerned. Since our last edition of Humanitarian Challenges, concerning the concept of “humanitarian corridors” or “wheat corridors”, nothing has really materialised yet in early July. While Martin Griffiths, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, and Rebecca Grynspan, Secretary-General of UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development), are preparing a comprehensive agreement including “safe export of Ukrainian grain by sea and access to Russian food and fertiliser on world markets, particularly for developing countries”, the countdown to hunger is already well underway in July.

The Covid-19 pandemic had already caused serious disruption to supply chains and an increase in prices. For the record, hunger threatened 811 million people in 2005, 607 million in 2014 and 811 million in 2020. How many will there be this year?

Already in Egypt, the world’s largest importer of cereals, which covers 80% of its needs, General Al-Sissi is calling for a national dialogue to anticipate the dangerous consequences of galloping inflation and bread shortages.

In Kenya, according to the Mail & Guardian in Johannesburg, the price of a 2kg bag of wheat has increased by 25% and the price of cooking oil by 42% since April 2021.

Even more seriously, according to The Guardian, the global food system is in danger of collapse. A complex system 90% owned by four large global groups with a constant flow logic, the food system has developed along the lines of the banks that prevailed during the 2008 crisis and, as was the case then, “a disruption can topple the whole thing”.

While it is becoming urgent to diversify global production and to strengthen “the factors likely to prevent a systemic collapse”, it is also necessary, first of all, to supply wheat to the countries and populations that urgently need it today.

NATO Summit in Madrid during which Turkey signed an agreement with Sweden and Finland for them to join NATO. ©NATO (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Military escalation in Ukraine.

Since the end of June, it seems that we have entered a new phase of escalation of the war in Ukraine. The G7 meeting with its reinforced sanctions, the NATO summit with the membership applications of Finland and Sweden, the tensions around the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, the delivery of long-range heavy artillery and, soon, of American medium- and long-range NASAMS surface-to-air missiles demonstrate this. This is undoubtedly a case of reinforced military support in the face of the Ukrainian army’s difficulties in the Donbass.

Russia’s response was not long in coming when Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declared that the war against Ukraine “could be over in a day, if Ukrainian forces lay down their arms and comply with Russia’s conditions”. Nothing less.

On the ground, the Russians have seized the city of Severodonesk and Lyssychansk. Already strikes are being carried out on the new targets in Kramatorsk and Sloviansk. The Ukrainians are increasing their firepower, notably with the help of French Caesar guns and American M771 howitzers and, soon, HIMARS rocket launchers with a range of 80 km.

French César canons delivered in Ukraine. June 2022

In other words, the priority on both sides is the war and it will last at least until the winter, which freezes the fighting and the positions. This represents more than a doubling of the war’s duration, from 4 to 9 months and, consequently, of the destruction of the population and the infrastructure. The Ukrainian army is in a difficult situation in the Donbass, but it can hope to wear down the Russian military machine as it is fighting at home and can mobilise large numbers of motivated soldiers. The next front line will be established during the summer in front of the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk and we will experience new displacements of populations, injuries, deaths and demolished cities, not to mention war crimes. Therefore, humanitarians should increase their emergency and long-term relief efforts.

A changing world

The rupture now seems to have been made, and for a long time to come, between Russia and what can be described as the Western world, with Europe in the front line. Seen from Paris, Washington, Brussels or Berlin, we can think that Russia is isolated, with a few exceptions, and as the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, says, that it has committed a major strategic error that some would like to make it pay for at the highest price through defeat.

But seen from Beijing, Delhi, Pretoria or Dakar, it is quite different. As proof, at the same time as the G7 and NATO were meeting, the BRICS Group was meeting in Beijing. This group brings together Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, representing 41% of the world’s population, 24% of GDP and 13% of international trade. Among the topics discussed was the reform of the multilateral system. Chinese President Xi Jimping denounced the “expansion of military alliances” on the podium and said that sanctions were a double-edged sword that would come back like a “boomerang”. This makes some commentators say that China has clearly chosen its side!

14thBRICS Summit in Pékin 24/06/2022. Jairus Mmutle/GCIS (CC BY-ND 2.0)

The Chinese Foreign Minister, Wong Yi, has also called on a number of countries to join the BRICS, particularly Indonesia, where the next G20 meeting will take place in November, which Vladimir Putin is expected to attend.

At the same time, China has increased its crude oil imports by 55% between May 2021 and May 2022. And India has multiplied its crude oil imports by 9, even though it is seeking to diversify its purchases of mainly Russian military equipment.

Russia is therefore less isolated, and other alliances are being forged that will shape international relations, if not crystallise them into competing alliances. We are witnessing a change in the world, with Ukraine as a trigger, or rather as an accelerator!

And humanitarian action in all this ?

The world is becoming antagonistic, more uncertain and conflictual. The rules that were once commonly accepted are being challenged. The period that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disappearance of the USSR, some thirty years ago, is turning the page and we are entering the unknown of new international power relations.

Are we not already in a world war for hydrocarbons and gas, for grain and fertiliser supplies and between opposing political models, a war of memories and ambitions?

Will the war in Ukraine last, escalate, spill over or will it lead to a negotiated solution? Is a new cold war beginning when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Labrov declares that a new iron curtain is coming down on Europe? In any case, Vladimir Putin will have succeeded in strengthening NATO and the European Union, in stimulating their spirit of defence.

It is in this context that a conference bringing together 40 countries and numerous international organisations mobilised to define the conditions for the reconstruction of Ukraine opened in Lugano, Switzerland, in early July. This may seem to come at a bad time, but reconstruction will be long and costly. So we might as well start preparing for it now.

In any case, humanitarian action will have a lot to do with a less globalised, less multilateralist world, with more sovereignty and a desire for independence and recognition. If humanitarian action is not to emerge exhausted from the great laundry of history at a time when the need for relief has never been so urgent, we will have to apply our principles without compromising on the substance, while adapting a great deal on the form, so as not to leave victims alone in the face of adversity and cruelty, to save lives, to rebuild and to promote a future of hope and the right of peoples to be free and to develop.

I hope this article will be useful to you, and I would like to thank you personally for the support you can give us (makeadonation) to enable the regular publication of Humanitarian Challenges.

Thank you and see you in early August for the next edition.

Alain Boinet.


Humanitarian: Wars, epidemics, famine.

Withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan on 15 February 1989.

Afghanistan at the crossroads.

Joe Biden has just announced the final withdrawal of the last American troops on 11 September 2021, 20 years after their intervention, but with what results? In any case, it is not a victory when you negotiate your departure with the enemy. In 20 years, according to some experts, with 2000 billion dollars spent, despite the corruption and the war, Afghanistan is not in 2021 what it was in 2001.

Many infrastructures such as roads have been built, education has developed, the status of women has evolved, the media has flourished and, if elections have been held, they are compromised by massive irregularities and contestation of the results.

Yet the war is still there, right to the heart of Kabul, and 1.1 million Afghans are displaced by the fighting. I, who love this country, who hope for a political solution of reconciliation, a kind of “peace of the brave”, fear that the gap between the enemy brothers has in fact deepened. And then, those who are fighting today have never been so armed and trained. Finally, some, like the son of Commander Massoud, say they are ready to take up arms in their region, like Panshir.

What will be the effects of the departure of American troops and NATO countries by 11 September? I’m already hearing about preventive evacuation of expatriates, especially the French! I don’t know what will happen in the coming months, but I do know that humanitarian aid is still essential.

This is not the time to interrupt relief efforts, we must certainly adapt to a major change, as humanitarians may have seemed to be embroiled in the Western coalition at the cost of their principles and are probably less in tune with the populations, especially in rural areas.

Mali, the weak link in the Sahel!

Mohamed Bazoun, the new democratically elected president of Niger, declared on 6 April 2021 in the newspaper Le Figaro “There is a retreat of democracy in Africa”, he added “On all sides, on our borders, we are under threat from jihadist groups…” and he concluded by saying “the weak link of the system is in Mali”.

Mali experienced an army coup on 18 August 2020 that toppled elected president Ibrahim Boubakar Keita, or IBK, whose regime was faltering in the face of street protests by the June 5 Movement RFP supported by the influential Iman Mahmoud Dicko.

Soldiers of the Malian Armed Forces are warmly welcomed at the Independence Square in Bamako on August 18, 2020, after the arrest of Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. ©Stringer, AFP

Since then, a transitional government has been set up, with the agreement of ECOWAS. It is headed by a President, Bah Ndaw, a Vice-President, Colonel Assimi Goîta, who led the military movement, and a Prime Minister, Moctar Ouane, with a programme of constitutional revision, territorial redrawing, the fight against corruption and the “reforms the country needs”.

Aid conditions could also change drastically as Joseph Borrell, the European Union’s high representative for relations, told Le Monde on 29 April: “The key word is governance. We may have signed too many blank cheques, provided resources without checking how they were used. And already the next presidential elections are being prepared for the spring of 2022.

Faced with a war that is dragging on and a security situation that is deteriorating, the French military have long been saying that there is no military solution. Some declared that development would do the rest. They didn’t dare say that the solution was political. The coup d’état was a reminder of this. But the situation has changed profoundly since the President of the Republic of Mali, Ibrahim Boubakar Keita, announced that he wanted to negotiate with the Malian armed groups that France is fighting with the G5 Sahel, which includes the Malian army!

This position was confirmed by the Prime Minister of the transition, Moctar Ouane, who expressed his government’s wish “to engage in dialogue with all the children of Mali, without exclusion”. France has always been opposed to this, through the voice of Jean-Yves Le Drian, and remains committed to the Algiers Agreements. What will result from this, a strategic repositioning of the Barkhane force, but with what consequences on the ground? Will there be a consensus among the G5 Sahel countries, with what common strategy and for what result? The death of Chadian President Idriss Déby in battle has further weakened the G5 Sahel, the Barkhane force and MINUSMA.

What will this transition period in Mali bring us, status quo or change? In the meantime, the priority for humanitarians is still to respond to the growing needs of an ever-increasing population affected by fighting, global warming and the economic and social consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, while the price of many foodstuffs is soaring. In West Africa, 31 million people are expected to become food insecure, according to Chris Nikoi, WFP Regional Director for West Africa.

Photo ©Neil Palmer (CIAT) /Flickr CC

In this context, while the coordination of humanitarian aid and development is more necessary than ever, humanitarians are calling on development agencies to put an end to the obligation they impose on their partners to list the beneficiaries of aid, which is contrary to International Humanitarian Law (IHL), to the principles of humanitarian NGOs and to their security.

Finally, in the medium and long term, let us not forget the demographic challenge. In Niger, for example, the population has increased by 600% in 60 years. Today, the population is 24 million, with an average age of 15 years, and is expected to reach 70 million in 2050!

The world’s population is expected to increase by 2 billion people over the next 30 years, from 7.7 billion today to 9.7 billion in 2050. In sub-Saharan Africa, the total population is expected to double by 2050. I fear that we are now embroiled in a permanent emergency that requires a change of scale and pace in the collective response to this major challenge for these countries and their people!

Women in Niger prepare fields for the rainy season as part of an initiative to combat desertification. ©CIAT

Famine threatens the victims of war and Covid-19.

In this edition you will find an interview with Antoine Basbous on “The Middle East on fire” which completes my remarks and the need for humanitarian aid to remobilise. In Syria, 24 million people need support according to the UN, 4 million more than in 2020. At a time when we are commemorating a decade of war in Syria, when the currency has lost almost 99% of its value, donors are only responding to half of the urgent humanitarian needs and the situation is the same for Yemen!

In Lebanon, where the currency has lost 90% of its value against the dollar, whereas there was parity before, 90% of Syrian refugees live below the poverty line and 76% are severely vulnerable! The situation is very serious. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 45 countries need emergency food aid this year and 30 million of them are on the verge of famine.

FAO Food and Commodity Price Index, 8 April 2021. ©FAO

As UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has just said, “If you don’t feed the people, you feed the war”!

Is war coming back in force?

The trend towards conflict is worrying. While experts have historically observed a decrease in wars and casualties, in 2016 the number of countries experiencing war and violent conflict was at its highest level in 30 years. According to the Conflict Barometer of the Heidelberg Institute for international conflict research (hiik), by 2020 the number of wars and violent crises in the world will have risen from 15 to 21.

The role of humanitarian aid is to provide emergency relief in the wake of wars, disasters and epidemics. The role of Humanitarian Challenges is to analyse the risks in order to respond to them. Today, the risk of conflict involves large states such as China threatening Taiwan, Russia and Ukraine, Turkey in the South Caucasus and the Mediterranean.

This reality led General Lecointre, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces (CEMA) to declare a few months ago that France was now preparing for a high-intensity conflict involving states. Similarly, at the end of last year, General Graziano, Chairman of the European Union Military Committee, said: “The threats have never been so close to us.


In a global geopolitical context of the return of states and empires, humanitarians must find ways of reconciling access to relief with the assertion of national sovereignty in the field, including in the poorest countries. This assertion of sovereignty can also have positive effects in terms of ownership of responsibilities and initiatives by poor developing states that are primarily responsible for their own populations. Sovereignty and relief must now be reconciled in order to better respond to the vital needs of populations.

While the worst is never certain, it is always better to be prepared for it if necessary. And this is true for the Covid-19 pandemic, which cannot be defeated until the majority of humanity is vaccinated. The ACT accelerator to help poor states is underfunded while we face a common threat, especially in those countries where containment has more disastrous consequences than elsewhere.

Mali began its Covid-19 vaccination programme with Health Minister Fanta Siby. ©UNICEF/Seyba Keïta

This is why we have high expectations of the summit on the financing of sub-Saharan African economies which will take place on 18 May in Paris and which we will report on in the next edition of Défis Humanitaires at the beginning of June.

Faced with these threats, should humanitarian aid not adapt to become even more effective, faster, more sustainable and closer to the populations at risk?

Alain Boinet.

PS 1/ In this edition you will also find an encouraging article by Antoine Vaccaro on trends in philanthropy and generosity.

PS 2/ I would like to thank you for your donation, however small, on HelloAsso to support Défis Humanitaires which needs it to continue and develop its humanitarian action with you. Thank you.