Each year, the International Rescue Committee releases a list of the 20 humanitarian crises expected to deteriorate the most over the next year. For the past decade, this report has helped us determine where to focus our emergency services and lifesaving support to make the greatest impact.

Heading into 2023, countries across the globe continue to struggle with decades-long conflicts, economic turmoil, and the devastating effects of climate change. The guardrails that once prevented such crises from spiraling out of control - including peace treaties, humanitarian aid, and accountability for violations of international law - have been weakened or dismantled.   

The human and economic costs of these crises and disasters are not equally shared. The countries on the 2023 Watchlist are home to just 13% of the global population, yet they account for 90% of people in humanitarian need and 81% of the people who have been forcibly displaced. 

If we can understand what is happening in these 20 countries - and what to do about it - then we may, finally, have a chance to start reducing the scale of human suffering. 

Here, we break down what you need to know about the 10 countries likely to face the worst humanitarian crises next year. For more information, read the full 2023 Emergency Watchlist report or our Watchlist at a Glance summary.

10. Ukraine: War creates world’s largest displacement crisis

The war in Ukraine has sparked the world’s fastest, largest displacement crisis in decades, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), pushing the country into the Watchlist for the first time since 2017.

Ukrainian family standing outside their home
Marina holds her son and stands with her husband, Sergii, in front of their home which was destroyed by a missile strike earlier this year. Marina's family is now displaced and stays in makeshift accommodation.
Photo: Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi for the IRC

The country is not higher on the Watchlist only because the huge scale of the international response helped to mitigate the impact of the war, at least somewhat, relative to other Watchlist countries. 

What to expect for Ukraine in 2023

Conflict is likely to continue into 2023, with Ukrainians facing increased risk of injury, illness and death. Russian missile strikes could leave millions without water, electricity and heating in winter. More than 6.5 million Ukrainians have been displaced inside the country, while 7.8 million more are refugees across Europe. 

How the IRC helps in Ukraine

The IRC launched an emergency response to the war in February 2022, working with local partners in Ukraine, Poland and Moldova to reach the most vulnerable by providing essential items, cash assistance, improved access to healthcare, and safe spaces for women and children.

9. Haiti: Gang violence and climate change combine for chaos

Haiti makes it into the Watchlist top 10 as political instability and gang violence surge following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in 2021.

Armed gangs regularly take control of distribution routes, causing shortages of basic goods and fuel. Rising prices make it increasingly difficult for people to afford to buy the food they can access.

An IRC relief worker assists two young Haitian girls
Political instability and increasing gang violence combined with climate shocks are straining Haiti's health and sanitation systems. Armed gangs regularly take control of distribution routes, causing shortages of basic goods and fuel. Rising prices make it increasingly difficult for people to afford to buy the food they can access.
Photo: Gerald Martone for the IRC

Meanwhile climate shocks and the first cholera outbreak in three years strain critical health and sanitation systems.

What to expect for Haiti in 2023

Gang violence will continue to disrupt people’s livelihoods and essential services. Kidnappings, rape and killings are all rising, putting thousands at risk of death. 

Haiti also recorded record levels of food insecurity in 2022, which is expected to worsen in 2023.

Political turmoil and violence will continue to prevent humanitarian organisations from reaching people in need in 2023. 

How the IRC helps in Haiti

While the IRC is not currently present in Haiti, we have a history of supporting the country dating back to 2010, working with a strong network of local civil society organisations to respond to the needs of communities. We currently serve Haitians on the move in countries where the IRC has a programmatic response, including Mexico.

8. Burkina Faso: Armed group activity invites instability

The situation in Burkina Faso grows increasingly dire as non-state armed groups intensify their attacks and seize land. Tensions among the country’s political factions have contributed to the instability. Members of the armed forces seized power twice in 2022 alone. 

What to expect for Burkina Faso in 2023

Armed groups now control as much as 40% of the country.

While needs are dire, humanitarian aid is limited by conflict and lack of funding. Some towns in northern Burkina Faso are almost entirely cut off. The price of food has increased 30%, among the highest food inflation rates in the world. 

How the IRC helps in Burkina Faso

The IRC is active in Djibo, an area currently under siege by armed groups and host to many people who have fled their homes.

Health workers, with IRC support, screen for symptoms of coronavirus at a health center in Djibo, Burkina Faso.
Health workers, with IRC support, screen for symptoms of coronavirus at a health center in Djibo, Burkina Faso.

We deliver clean water, sanitation services and primary healthcare programmes.

7. South Sudan: Climate change compounds the legacy of civil war

South Sudan is still recovering from a civil war that ended in 2018. While conflict has decreased, localised fighting remains widespread. The country is one of the most fragile in the world.

Climate disasters including severe floods and droughts make it increasingly difficult for people to access food and basic resources. 

What to expect for South Sudan in 2023

More South Sudanese people than ever before - 7.8 million - will have trouble accessing food in 2023. Despite severe flooding, destroyed crops and disease outbreaks, funding shortages forced the World Food Program to suspend part of its food aid in 2022.

A mother holding her sleeping baby in front of their flooded house in South Sudan
Flooding has forced Abuk out of her home, coming suddenly and destroying everything - including the crops she relied on. She says every year things are disastrous. “Even if someone cultivates something, the crops may grow but are then destroyed.”
Photo: Adrienne Surprenant for the IRC

Conflict across the country also threatens civilians and humanitarian supporters. South Sudan consistently has the world’s highest level of violence against aid workers, hindering their ability to reach people in need.

How the IRC helps in South Sudan

With more than 900 full-time staff in South Sudan, the IRC provides lifesaving health and nutrition, protection and economic recovery services as well as resilience services to increasingly vulnerable people and refugees.

6. Syria: Years of war trigger an economic crisis 

Over a decade of war has destroyed Syria’s health system and left the country on the brink of economic collapse. A decade of conflict in neighbouring Lebanon has further increased food prices and poverty. Currently, 75% of Syrians are unable to meet their most basic needs and millions rely on humanitarian aid.

A Syrian mother sits with her 5 children on a small mattress
A Syrian mother with her children. She hopes that one day she will be able to return to her home in Aleppo and no longer has to live as a refugee in her own country.
Photo: Abdullah Hammam for the IRC

What to expect for Syria in 2023

Prices of goods will continue to increase into 2023. Ongoing conflict and airstrikes could force more people to flee their homes. 

The first cholera outbreak in a decade threatens to overwhelm Syria’s healthcare and water systems.

Since 2014, the U.N. Security Council has authorised U.N. agencies to deliver aid from neighbouring countries into Syria. This critical lifeline could be cut off for millions in early 2023 - in the middle of winter when needs will be particularly severe.

How the IRC helps in Syria

The IRC promotes economic recovery with job training, apprenticeships and small business support. We also support health facilities and mobile health teams with lifesaving trauma services as well as primary, reproductive and mental health services.

5. Yemen: Failed truce could lead to renewed conflict

The crisis in Yemen is deepening as an eight-year conflict between armed groups and government forces remains unresolved. While a ceasefire reduced fighting for several months, it collapsed in October 2022 and failed to mitigate the economic and health consequences of conflict.

Yemeni couple Essam and Naziha with their 2 children inside a refugee camp
This Yemeni family were displaced from their home due to the war. They have settled in Sahdah camp, which hosts IDPs from other parts of Yemen that have fled conflict.

Photo: Gabreez Productions for the IRC

Humanitarian funding has lagged. As it stands, 80% of the population lives in extreme poverty and 2.2 million children are acutely malnourished.

What to expect for Yemen in 2023

Due to the failed truce, major conflict could resume in 2023. Yemen is at increased risk of violence unless a longer ceasefire agreement is reached.

Already, localised fighting persists, making it difficult for humanitarian organisations to deliver aid to the most vulnerable. Basic goods like food and fuel will remain unaffordable for many Yemenis.

How the IRC helps in Yemen

While ongoing conflict and restrictions have posed a challenge, the IRC and our volunteers continue to reach vulnerable people and provide lifesaving health care, women’s protection and empowerment, and education programming.

4. Democratic Republic of Congo: Decades-long conflicts escalate 

Over 100 armed groups fight for control in eastern Congo fueling a crisis that has lasted for decades. Citizens are often targeted. After nearly 10 years of dormancy, the M23 armed group launched a new offensive in 2022, forcing families to flee their homes and disrupting humanitarian aid.

Major disease outbreaks - including measles, malaria and Ebola - continue to threaten an already weak healthcare system, putting many lives at risk. 

What to expect for DRC in 2023

Conflict remains the key concern in Congo, especially as tensions escalate and M23 takes control of more land.

Political unrest is rising as the country prepares for elections. Leaders have been accused of inciting and supporting conflict to win over constituents.

Two women stand in front of an IRC-supported community based women's centre. They have come together as a group to respond to the many challenges facing women and girls amidst ongoing violence in DRC.
Photo: Kellie Ryan for the IRC

Despite peacekeeping efforts, violence against civilians may increase before the vote. 

How the IRC helps in DRC

The IRC works with communities on peace-building projects to reduce conflict and launches emergency responses to contain Ebola and other health crises, including the latest outbreak in eastern Congo.

3. Afghanistan: An entire population is pushed into poverty 

Afghanistan ranked No. 1 on the 2022 Watchlist but dropped down for 2023 - not because conditions have improved but because the situation in East Africa is so severe.

Over a year since the Taliban took power, Afghans remain in economic collapse. While a rapid increase in aid prevented famine last winter, the root cause of the crisis persists. Ongoing efforts to engage the Taliban and improve the economy have fallen short.

A mother holding her small baby on her shoulder.
Members of a family who were given refuge on land after they were displaced from their home province of Parwan and have built a make-shift home from mud, plastic and fabric. The roof of the house collapsed last year after a heavy snowfall.

Almost the entire population is now living in poverty and preparing for another long winter.

What to expect for Afghanistan in 2023

Heading into winter, millions of people are unable to afford basic needs, with drought and flooding decimating crops and livestock. 

Afghan women and girls will experience the brunt of this hardship. They remain at risk of violence and exploitation. And many are left without a voice as the government places bans on education, dress, travel and political participation for women.

How the IRC helps in Afghanistan

The IRC more than quadrupled our staff in Afghanistan in 2022 to operate in 12 provinces, support 68 health facilities and manage 30 mobile health teams. In the next year, we expect to reach 800,000 people directly and impact 4 million with our services.

2. Ethiopia: Drought and conflict torments tens of millions 

Ethiopia is heading toward its sixth consecutive failed rainy season, which could prolong a drought already affecting 24 million people.

A coffee farmer holding the branches of the coffee tree destroyed by the severe drought
Amin is a coffee farmer and father of 13. His crop has been badly affected by the severe drought in the region. He used to have a coffee farm that provided income to take care of his family. But now, he can’t even afford to feed his family.
Photo: Mihiret Fekadu for the IRC

At the same time, various conflicts across the country are disrupting lives and preventing humanitarian organisations from delivering aid.

This violence is preventing humanitarian organisations from delivering lifesaving aid. While a November 2022 peace deal may hold and offers hope for an end to the conflict in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, 28.6 million remain in need of humanitarian aid.

What to expect for Ethiopia in 2023

The humanitarian response to the drought in Ethiopia is insufficiently funded, even more so than in East African countries facing a similar crisis. If humanitarian groups can’t deliver resources in a country that is badly affected by aid funding shortfalls, Ethiopians will starve as they are hit by drought and rising food prices. 

If the peace deal unravels, humanitarian needs will increase even more. 

How the IRC helps in Ethiopia

The IRC distributes cash and basic emergency supplies, builds safe water supply systems and sanitation facilities, and supports government partners and community workers in maintaining health clinics.

1. Somalia: A catastrophic hunger crisis tops the Watchlist

Topping the Watchlist for the first time, Somalia is facing an unprecedented drought and hunger crisis. Thousands of people have already lost their lives to hunger, and the country is on the brink of famine.

Bistra, a Somali refugee standing in the desert
"I left home because of the drought. I've spent a year here in the camp. Water and food are scarce. The roof of our shelter is enough for protecting us from the rain." Bistra, Somalia
Photo: Martha Tadesse for the IRC

This is no “natural disaster.” Human-caused climate change has increased the frequency and severity of droughts. Decades of conflict have eroded Somalia’s ability to respond to shocks of any kind, destroying systems and infrastructure that would have provided a guardrail against the current crisis. 

For instance, with its food production decimated by climate change and conflict, Somalia’s dependence on imports has proven disastrous - over 90% of its wheat comes from Russia and Ukraine. 

What to expect for Somalia in 2023

Somalia, like Ethiopia, could experience its sixth consecutive failed rainy season in 2023. High global food prices driven by the war in Ukraine make it even harder for families to eat. 

Humanitarian organisations have limited ability to reach people in areas controlled by a non-state armed group. There are even reports of the group destroying food deliveries and poisoning water sources.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian response in Somalia remains severely underfunded. 

How the IRC helps in Somalia

The IRC has been operational in Somalia since 1981, with programmes including health, nutrition, water and sanitation services; women’s protection and empowerment; and cash assistance. We are scaling up our programmes to address drought and rising food insecurity, and we are expanding to new areas to meet severe needs.

What needs to be done?

Aid-as-usual will not address the severe challenges revealed by the Watchlist. To make a lasting impact, international institutions must rethink the way we address crises in 2023. This involves setting ambitious goals to break ongoing cycles of conflict and devastation.

How can I help?

A record 270 million people are in need of humanitarian aid this year, and 100 million have been forced to flee their homes.

Make a donation to support the IRC's life-changing work in Watchlist countries and across the world.