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EXPERT VIEWS - As crises multiply, what are aid groups' priorities for 2019?

by Emma Batha | @emmabatha | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 28 December 2018 00:01 GMT

Internally displaced children walk at Elevage camp in Bambari, Central African Republic September 7, 2018. UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson/VII Photo/via REUTERS

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We asked aid agencies to name their 3 priorities for 2019

By Emma Batha

LONDON, Dec 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Aid agencies are bracing for a challenging new year as they tackle protracted conflicts from Yemen to Central African Republic and get to grips with escalating crises such as the mass exodus of Venezuelans fleeing turmoil at home.

The United Nations has asked donors for $21.9 billion to address 21 humanitarian crises in 2019, including Yemen, its biggest aid operation. This appeal does not include Syria which is expected to bring the total to $25 billion. We asked aid agencies to name their 3 priorities for 2019.


1) Getting ready for the next pandemic. 2018 saw Ebola, 2017 Zika and Lassa. What's next? Our priorities: community engagement, emergency health care, water and sanitation services to protect against disease.

2) Protecting the "missing millions". Migrants on the move, women and children, disabled people: our research has quantified those who are left out of humanitarian response.

3) Being ready for more climate-related shocks and hazards. Supporting adaptation to build resilience; activating early warning systems and early action; building on innovative approaches like forecast-based financing.

OCHA - Mark Lowcock, U.N. humanitarian chief

1) Close the persistent funding gap between what we receive and need to respond. The record $14.3 billion that generous donors provided for U.N.-coordinated humanitarian response plans this year meets only 57 percent of needs.

2) Practical measures to improve warring parties' respect for international humanitarian law. I'll bolster civil-military capability to help facilitate compliance.

3) Implement stronger measures to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse within the aid community.

WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME - Corinne Woods, communications director

1) Scaling up our food assistance to meet the needs of millions of hungry people in Yemen, with particular attention to the women and children on whom malnutrition is taking a toll.

2) Working with governments and other partners to help rebuild the livelihoods and strengthen the resilience of millions around the world whose lives are being torn apart by conflict and climate change.

3) Harnessing the latest in digital technology, including blockchain and biometrics, to move the fight against food insecurity into a different gear and take us towards a world of zero hunger.

SAVE THE CHILDREN - Daniele Timarco, humanitarian director

1) Yemen: Some 85,000 children under five may have died of starvation and disease. All involved need to step up to help bring an end to this conflict.

2) Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): This is one of the most complex humanitarian crises, which includes the second largest Ebola outbreak ever. 2019 will be a decisive year, in which the downward spiral can hopefully be stopped.

3) Venezuela/Colombia: An estimated 1.5 million Venezuelans have crossed into Colombia, 60 percent of whom are children at risk of disease, trafficking, exploitation or recruitment.

OXFAM - Nigel Timmins, humanitarian director

1) In Yemen, the U.N. is warning that we could see the world's worst famine in 100 years. Already over 8 million people are at emergency hunger levels. This is a man-made disaster fuelled by all sides in the conflict.

2) The DRC Ebola outbreak continues to worsen. Once it's under control, we must rebuild lives and communities. Ebola outbreaks impact local economies, and survivors and their families suffer stigma.

3) The situation in South Sudan is likely to deteriorate in 2019. By March, it's estimated 4-5 million people will be in hunger with 26,000-36,000 in famine conditions.

ACTIONAID - Rachid Boumnijel, acting head of humanitarian response

1) DRC: In 2019, the international community must urgently redouble its efforts to end this conflict. It's also vital to end the deplorable use of rape as a 'weapon of war'.

2) The Rohingya refugee crisis: We're working with Rohingya refugee women who've survived terrible sexual violence – and they're telling us they want safety, justice and some control over their future. It's vital that they're not forced to return.

3) Yemen: This catastrophic conflict has pushed ordinary people to the brink of mass famine. The hostilities need to end.

CARE INTERNATIONAL UK - Tom Newby, head of humanitarian

1) Climate change: We're already seeing the impacts and it's clear now that so much is irreversible. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report was quite frightening in its warning that we only have 12 years to limit catastrophe.

2) Yemen: We need a political solution and end to fighting.

3) Refugees: It's crucial that we see a global commitment to both the spirit and the words of the global refugee and migration compacts, and make sure states do not just cherry-pick the bits they like and ignore the rest.

INTERNATIONAL RESCUE COMMITTEE - Sanj Srikanthan, senior vice president

1) Yemen: 20.5 million civilians are on the brink of famine. The alarming lack of political will to find a solution to the conflict means no one can claim to be surprised by the severity of this crisis – it's as predictable as it's preventable.

2) South Sudan: Despite a peace agreement in 2018, the threat of a re-escalation of civil war persists and the humanitarian impact would be disastrous.

3) Nigeria: In 2018 Nigeria overtook India as the country with the world's largest number of poor people. Attacks by armed groups are on the increase and elections in February could destabilise the situation further.


1) Political will to end conflicts in Myanmar, Syria and Yemen. These three countries, more than others, have defined humanitarian action for all NGOs over the past decade. Without sincere and decisive action they may yet drag into the next decade.

2) Improve humanitarian access. NGOs have seen the humanitarian space shrink in several conflict areas including Syria, Yemen and South Sudan, putting aid workers at risk and depriving people of essential supplies.

3) Meet the funding target of the OCHA Humanitarian Response Plan. The current scale of human suffering is greater than at any time since the Second World War.

MERCY CORPS - Craig Redmond, senior vice president for programmes

1) We must better understand and combat the root causes of conflict in places like DRC, Central African Republic (CAR) and Nigeria through improved governance, addressing past grievances and equitable economic growth.

2) Making markets work in crisis. As conflicts are now more protracted than two decades ago, it's an urgent priority that we enable affected people and communities to take control of their recovery through local systems, and reduce dependence on relief.

3) Providing opportunity to young people. With the DRC election result likely in the new year and the Nigeria election planned for February, the two countries with the most people living in poverty could potentially see major political shifts. We must ensure young people feel included and have prospects.

CARITAS - Michel Roy, secretary general

1) Work to improve the welcome of migrants and lessen their social exclusion.

2) Push for more ambitious targets on limiting global warming to no higher than 1.5 degrees.

3) Push for peace in Israel and occupied Palestinian territory, Syria, CAR and Cameroon.

NORWEGIAN REFUGEE COUNCIL - Jan Egeland, secretary general

1) We will strive to become better at reaching people in war-zones and hard-to-reach areas with protection and assistance, as these are the places where too many suffer alone.

2) We will prioritise neglected crises to ensure people get support based on needs, and not political or media interest.

3) We will work for durable solutions, so that refugees can return safely home in a voluntary and dignified way or be integrated where they are now. We expect to see the first voluntary returns to parts of Syria next year, and we must be prepared to assist.

(Some answers have been edited)

(Reporting by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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