After Ecuador and Haiti were identified as part of the 20 countries most at risk of intensifying humanitarian crises, according to the 2024 Emergency Watchlist, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) warned during a virtual briefing that their effects will be felt across the Latin America and Caribbean region.

Multiple factors—spanning from intensifying violence, the effects of climate change, increasing poverty, and growing hunger rates—will deteriorate living conditions for millions of people in Ecuador and Haiti, potentially forcing thousands to seek safety elsewhere. In fact, as of October 2023, at least 50,000 Ecuadorians and 41,000 Haitians had crossed the Darien Gap, marking increases of nearly 75% and 85% compared to the records from 2022, respectively.

Julio Rank Wright, Regional Vice President for Latin America at the IRC, said:

“The crises in Haiti and Ecuador are creating a ripple effect across the entire region. Yet, as conflicts escalate around the world, competing priorities are diverting attention. However, these countries are not the only places facing risks: many families throughout Latin America and the Caribbean encounter threats to their safety every day and struggle to cover their most basic needs. 

“As crises deepen, challenges to deliver aid arise. There are gaps in the support and resources allocated by the international community, with Humanitarian Response Plans historically being underfunded or non-existent for certain countries. We call on world leaders to robustly invest in humanitarian and development assistance in Latin America and the Caribbean that prioritizes collaboration leading to concrete funding commitments and a harmonized response.”

IRC analysis identified several key trends seen across all Watchlist countries that are crucial to address in the year ahead. Firstly, armed conflict and climate change are increasingly converging in the same places at the same time. Secondly, conflicts are becoming more complex and internationalized. Additionally, humanitarian responses are buckling under the weight of access, resource, and political constraints. According to the IRC’s Emergency Watchlist 2024, Ecuador and Haiti will face challenges such as:

Increasing violence that will trigger forced displacement

Conflict between government forces and criminal groups from Mexico, Colombia, and Europe is escalating in Ecuador, which is already on track to have one of the world’s highest murder rates. From 2020 to 2022, homicides increased by 245%, and during the first half of 2023 the country experienced a 75% rise compared to the same period in the previous year. 

Fear of violence has prompted thousands of Ecuadorians to leave, primarily heading to the U.S., where government data indicates that encounters at the border with Mexico have surged since June 2023.

Weak governance, corruption and an overwhelmed police force have allowed gangs to expand their domain in Haiti, where they already control 80% of the capital, Port-au-Prince. By September 2023 there had already been 5,600 gang-related incidents and active fighting in areas requiring assistance continues to impede the delivery of aid and poses a risk to aid workers. 

Climate change, which will exacerbate needs     

El Niño is expected to cause above-average rainfall in 2024, exposing the 50% of Ecuador’s population who live in floodable areas to the risk of disrupted livelihoods, displacement and increased spread of disease. Further, the western regions most at risk due to El Niño also host the largest populations of Venezuelans, who typically have less access to services and employment that would help them withstand new shocks. 

Haiti’s domestic agricultural production is increasingly unpredictable because of climate-related disasters and above-average temperatures during production seasons. Severe earthquakes and tropical storms in recent years have caused population displacements and disrupted income-generating activities, further reducing purchasing power and access to food. 

Food insecurity that will deepen

Flooding in the eastern and southern regions of Ecuador may erode agricultural land that had already been degraded by recent drought, driving food insecurity into 2024. Over 20% of children under 2 are chronically malnourished—the second-highest rate of any country in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Though inflation has slightly eased, violence and climate shocks have disrupted livelihoods and market activity in Haiti. The depreciation of the Haitian gourde has diminished the government’s ability to pay for imports, pushing up the cost of food in a country where almost 90% of people live in poverty and 44% already experience crisis or worse (IPC 3+) levels of food insecurity

Download the IRC’s 2024 Emergency Watchlist 2024

The IRC’s response

The IRC is operating throughout Latin America: responding to the needs of Venezuelans in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru as well as through local partners in Venezuela; supporting people at risk of violence and displacement in northern Central America; and providing aid along the main displacement corridors in Mexico. In December 2022, the IRC launched a response through emergency donations and longer-term support to Haitian partners working in Port-au-Prince.