Record 235 million people need humanitarian assistance in 2021: UN

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Senegalese Red Cross volunteers sanitize houses after floods to prevent infectious diseases in Dakar's suburb Camberene, Senegal, on Sept. 9, 2020. (Xinhua/Louis Denga)
Senegalese Red Cross volunteers sanitize houses after floods to prevent infectious diseases in Dakar’s suburb Camberene, Senegal, on Sept. 9, 2020. (Xinhua/Louis Denga)

A record 235 million people will need humanitarian assistance next year, a near-40 percent increase on 2020 which is “almost entirely from COVID-19,” the UN said on Tuesday.

In an appeal for 35 billion U.S. dollars to meet humanitarian needs next year, Mark Lowcock, the UN’s emergency relief chief, said the global health crisis had resulted in people reeling from conflict, levels of displacement and climate change shocks, adding that “multiple” famines are looming.

This year’s Global Humanitarian Overview sets out plans “to reach 160 million of the most vulnerable people in 56 countries,” Lowcock said.

He noted that while richer countries had invested large amount in staving off economic disaster from the COVID-induced slump and could now see “light at the end of the tunnel,” the situation in relatively poor countries might not be the same.

He said funding was needed to “stave off famine, fight poverty, and keep children vaccinated and in school.”

Lowcock also highlighted how climate change and rising global temperatures had further contributed to the bleak outlook for humanitarian needs in 2021 — humanitarian agencies had got a huge amount of work to do in those countries most vulnerable to climate change effects.

The UN relief chief pointed to “new spikes of conflict in places that were previously more peaceful,” including Nagorno-Karabakh, northern Mozambique, Western Sahara and northern Ethiopia.

In addition to providing the means to help communities in crisis, Lowcock underscored the UN appeal’s focus on preventive action.

This included a cash injection for the World Health Organization in February at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, to ensure that poorer countries could receive protective equipment to tackle COVID-19.

Similarly, tens of thousands of potential flood victims in Bangladesh also received “support and cash” help in good time so that they could protect their belongings and livelihoods.

Nonetheless, the UN official stressed that the scale of the challenges facing humanitarians next year were massive and growing. “If we get through 2021 without major famines, that will be a significant achievement,” he said.

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