• Somalia, Ethiopia and Afghanistan top the IRC’s Emergency Watchlist highlighting the countries where humanitarian crises are expected to deteriorate most in 2023.

  • Ukraine is amongst the 10 worst countries in crisis.

  • The 20 Watchlist countries are home to 13% of the world’s population, but account for 90% of all those in humanitarian need and 81% of people who are forcibly displaced.

  • 100% of people worldwide facing catastrophic food insecurity live in Watchlist countries.

  • Humanitarian crises in Watchlist countries account for just 1% of media coverage in top-tier global publications.

Today the International Rescue Committee (IRC) launches its annual Emergency Watchlist, highlighting the 20 countries at greatest risk of new or worsening humanitarian emergencies next year.

Somalia and Ethiopia top the list of countries deemed most at risk in 2023 as East Africa faces the worst drought in decades. Afghanistan is in third place, while Ukraine features in tenth place.

With more than 340 million people worldwide in humanitarian need, and more than 100 million displaced, IRC expert analysis clearly identifies three major accelerators of humanitarian crises - armed conflict, climate change, and economic turmoil.

The Watchlist shows that the systems designed to prevent such crises from spiralling out of control are being dismantled - including diplomatic agreements, UN tribunals, climate early warning systems, and humanitarian aid itself - and highlights what can be done to rebuild these guardrails against a runaway world.

David Miliband, IRC President and CEO, said: 

“The Emergency Watchlist shows record levels of humanitarian need in 2022 and real peril ahead for 2023. The evidence presented this year shows that the guardrails that protect people from humanitarian catastrophe are being weakened in fragile and conflict states around the world. These guardrails are local, national and international systems designed to limit the impact of humanitarian crises on affected communities and to prevent crises from spiralling out of control. But the scale and nature of conflict, climate change and economic turmoil left unchecked in too many places is over-loading these systems. One need only look to the war in Ukraine to understand the impact of the unravelling of global guardrails against conflict, and the close association with humanitarian crises.

“On average, countries on the Watchlist have experienced armed conflict for nearly the entirety of the past decade. They pay the highest price for climate change, as the longest period of failed rains ever recorded has pushed millions to the brink of starvation in East Africa. And they face the fallout of the global cost-of-living crisis, especially with the removal of the final guardrail against starvation with the Russian blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. Watchlist countries are being pushed off the cliff of catastrophe. Needs will continue to grow in a world with hamstrung guardrails or without them entirely.

“The 2023 Watchlist reveals a need for a step change in the way the international community approaches humanitarian crises. At their heart, these are political crises, economic crises, security crises, and climate crises. But the erosion of guardrails meant to address these underlying issues means that humanitarian crises are spiralling. Aid as usual will not meet the moment. The nearly 340 million people who require aid in 2023 need more humanitarian funding for greater and better programs. But they also deserve more. They require a plan to break the cycle of runaway crises. This means new tools to protect people caught up in conflict, and a new commitment to confront - rather than compound - shared global risks.” 

Harlem Désir, IRC Senior Vice President, Europe, added:

“The world is today caught in a cycle of deepening crisis, fuelled by a toxic brew of conflict, climate change and economic turmoil. Not only are these drivers resulting in record levels of need, they are increasingly connected. The war in Ukraine is a prime example - both costing lives in Europe, and leading to starvation and deaths in East Africa. It’s clear that the current system of guardrails and protections is overwhelmed, and action is needed now to prevent crises spiralling further out of control.

"We’re calling on the EU and its member states to show true humanitarian leadership, ramping up funding and support for people trapped in conflict and crises. They must tackle impunity head on, ensuring that nobody can violate international humanitarian law with impunity. And they must strike a new deal for the forcibly displaced - treating all those seeking protection with respect and dignity. 

"These actions will not only be vital to break the cycle of crisis exposed in this year’s Watchlist, but to remind the world of the EU’s strength, unity and humanity.”

IRC Emergency Watchlist 2023 

Places 1-10 (ranking 2022 in brackets): 

  1. Somalia (8)
  2. Ethiopia (2)
  3. Afghanistan (1)
  4. DRC (6)
  5. Yemen (3)
  6. Syria (9)
  7. South Sudan (5)
  8. Burkina Faso (Top 20)
  9. Haiti (Top 20)
  10. Ukraine (new, last included in 2017)

Places 11-20 (without ranking): 

Key IRC recommendations:

  1. Break the cycle of crisis by fixing the broken international response to the hunger crisis with reforms to famine and malnutrition responses, investing in national responses to stop the slide from fragile to failed state, and funding frontline responders;
  2. Protect civilians in conflict by re-establishing the right of civilians to aid via an independent organisation on humanitarian access, combating impunity by suspending veto power in the UN Security Council in cases of mass atrocities, and empowering women in peace and security efforts like peace negotiations;
  3. Confront shared global risks by breaking down the climate-humanitarian divide, pandemic-proofing the world with a Global Health Threats Council to hold the international community accountable for preventing future pandemics, and striking a new deal for the forcibly displaced and those hosting them who are providing a global public good.

* 1% of coverage in global top-tier publications refers to publications that reach more than 4.2 million people per month, per publicly available readership data on SimilarWeb.

Download the IRC Emergency Watchlist 2023.