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Humanitarian crisis: what does it mean?

Deteriorating living conditions can cause major social imbalances in any society. However, not every deterioration should be considered an emergency.

According to the United Nations, a humanitarian crisis is related to emergency situations resulting from disasters, whether due to natural events -earthquakes, floods and storms- or those derived from high-intensity armed conflicts that endanger the lives of a considerable number of people.

The humanitarian crisis over time

Throughout history, there have been profound humanitarian crises. One of the most significant crises occurred in 1991. When the Federal Republic of Somalia was hit by a series of conflicting events political and socio-economic, as a result of the struggle between different factions for power in the African country.

This power struggle unleashed armed clashes that caused the death of thousands of civilians and the beginning of one of the bloodiest and most violent chapters ever experienced in that country. This, together with the severe drought that continually plagued the Horn of Africa, led to the paralysis of production during the war and a generalized famine that gradually affected all regions of the country.

All these factors caused catastrophic consequences. It is estimated that thousands of people died, including children, as well as millions of people were violently displaced from their homes. Another of the worst humanitarian crises was experienced by Haiti in 2010. As a result of an earthquake on January 12 of the same year, the Haitian government estimates that 316,000 people lost their lives, thousands were injured and at least 1,500,000 were affected.

The landscape of humanitarian crises in 2018

For this year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) predicted that the most serious humanitarian crises are those experienced by:

  • Yemen (Prolonged violence, border closures and cholera outbreak)
  • Libya (torture, slavery, sex trafficking and illegal detentions)
  • Rohingya (Southern Burma. This small ethnic minority is massacred and tortured).
  • Syria (Constant bombing in a war that has been going on for about 7 years)
  • Iraq (After years of wars and conflicts. Most of its population is persecuted by the Islamic State).
  • The Democratic Republic of Congo (There are ethnic clashes and atrocities such as child stealing in the southeast of this country where countless sexual abuses are reported).
  • The Central African Republic (One of the poorest countries in the world. Where children are forced to work and become soldiers or sex slaves).
  • Somalia (Somalia is going through the worst drought in its history, the lack of water causes the death of livestock and grass, causing a situation of famine and consequently the malnutrition of its population).
  • South Sudan (Widespread famine declared by the UN)
  • Ukraine (As a result of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, in which the Ukrainian Army and separatist rebels are fighting, its population has limited access to medicines and fuel).

Thus, it would seem that the worst humanitarian crises today are mostly the result of drought, political conflict, malnutrition and disease. Under international law, all people suffering from a humanitarian crisis in their region must be provided with the assistance and protection necessary for their well-being. Regardless of their identity or how they have been involved in the conflict.

United Nations and the humanitarian crisis

Today, despite humanitarian aid, the crisis is a reality that has not been eradicated. It is expected to become more serious and more frequent if the necessary measures are not taken as soon as possible.

The United Nations Organization is one of the international organizations whose purpose is "to carry out international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian nature". To this end, it has the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which is responsible for "bringing together humanitarian actors to intervene coherently in emergency situations". In addition, the UN has various agencies whose purpose is to help refugees (UNHCR), help children (UNICEF), feed the hungry (WFP) and cure the sick (WHO).

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