• Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Yemen top list of countries most at risk of deteriorating humanitarian crises in 2022;

  • The 20 Watchlist countries are home to 10% of the global population but account for 89% of those in need of humanitarian aid, 80% of refugees and asylum seekers and 76% of those internally displaced;

  • The top 10 countries alone account for 72% of people in need, and six of these countries rank on the list of countries least safe for women and girls;

  • IRC analysis reveals a “System Failure”: the international system meant to prevent and address humanitarian crises is not only failing, but also directly fueling crises, record displacement and humanitarian need;

  • IRC calls for a Total System Upgrade to prioritize both the urgent work to provide humanitarian relief as well as confront the drivers of crisis. This includes supporting the French proposal to suspend the veto in the UNSC in cases of mass atrocities.

Today, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), released its annual Emergency Watchlist highlighting 20 humanitarian crises expected to deteriorate the most in 2022. Expert analysis has identified how the global system designed to protect civilians, prevent conflict, hold abusers to account, and guarantee that humanitarian aid reaches those in need is failing at all levels — and even driving conflict and suffering.

Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and Yemen top the list of countries deemed most at risk of humanitarian deterioration in 2022. Most Watchlist countries - the top ten in particular - have experienced almost non-stop conflict over the last decade, hampering their ability to respond to global challenges like COVID-19 and climate change. This limited set of countries account for 89% of people in humanitarian need globally, 80% of global refugees and asylum seekers and 96% of attacks on humanitarians. Climate change is acting as a “pressure cooker” across Watchlist countries, contributing to rising violence and hunger and eroding response capacity. Four countries in East Africa - undermined by both conflict and a drought that is forecast to continue - appear in the top ten on this year’s Watchlist. The number of booster shots in high-income countries is more than triple the number of people fully vaccinated in Watchlist countries. 

David Miliband, President and CEO at the International Rescue Committee, said: “​​Every year the Watchlist is a sobering document. This year it is especially so. The record numbers of people in humanitarian need, record numbers of people without food to eat, record numbers of people on the run from violence and persecution, record numbers of civilians and aid workers exposed to extreme threats to life as well as livelihood, are shocking. They are also shaming, given that the resources of the world to feed and support its people have never been greater. All these records are driven by events in Watchlist countries - and for those living in the world’s most fragile and conflict-affected countries, the Watchlist shows that permanent crisis is the new normal. 

The crises we document in these countries are different than a series of unfortunate events. This year, the Watchlist makes a bigger argument: not just that there are more poor and more people forcibly displaced, but that the scale and nature of humanitarian distress around the world constitutes a ‘System Failure’. The ‘System’ meant to ensure an upward path towards peace, prosperity and the rule of law is failing - and now is the time to call it out.”

System Failure 

Watchlist 2022 details how the global system for preventing and addressing humanitarian crisis, built on the twin pillars of, first, state sovereignty and responsibility, and second, international law and rights, is failing. “System Failure,” which is driving record levels of need, is characterized by: states failing in their duties to their citizens; diplomacy failing to resolve conflicts; a legal regime failing to protect well-established rights for civilians; and humanitarian operations prevented from filling the widening gaps.

The drivers behind System Failure, and record levels of global need, are threefold. The first is the conflagration of conflict, with the increasing involvement of third-party actors and a weakening of peacemaking, resulting in just 21 peace agreements last year, the lowest figure since the Cold War. The second is the fragmentation of global politics, especially through the lens of the U.N. Security Council: rather than resolve existing crises, the Council is complicit in perpetuating them, with the use of the veto more than doubling since the 1990s. The third driver is the retreat from universal human rights in favor of national sovereignty - preventing accountability for violations, restricting humanitarian access and funding to the world’s worst crises. 

David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, continued: “A total system upgrade means dedicated, sustained political will to prioritize both the urgent work to provide humanitarian relief and the important work to confront the drivers of crisis and reverse the tide of suffering and impunity. 

“The Watchlist shows that we need significant changes to the humanitarian system: better spending of funds, more attention to the malfeasance of conflict actors who use hunger as a weapon of war and civilian suffering as a tool of control. The commitments of the United Nations Charter need new lines of defense- including abandoning the U.N. Security Council veto in cases of mass atrocity, expanding the use of universal jurisdiction to prosecute war crimes and reducing the role of social media in fanning the flames of conflict. We need a Total System Upgrade.

“Each day the international community perpetuates System Failure, the world’s most vulnerable are first to pay the price. Humanitarian emergencies will only get worse if the political emergencies underlying them are not addressed; if the killing is not stopped. That is the true message of this year’s Emergency Watchlist, which needs urgent international attention in taking forward.”

IRC Recommendations: Total System Upgrade

Tackling the symptoms: Humanitarian Action

Tackling the root causes:


David Miliband will be expounding on “System Failure” in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations on December 15 from 11am Eastern to noon Eastern. You can watch the livestreamhere

Read the full report and the IRC’s recommendations for addressing System Failurehere.

Read more about the top ten countries on the 2022 Emergency Watchlisthere.

Read more about System Failure here.


The full list of IRC’s 2022 Emergency Watchlist is:


  1. Afghanistan
  2. Ethiopia
  3. Yemen
  4. Nigeria
  5. South Sudan
  6. DRC
  7. Myanmar
  8. Somalia
  9. Syria
  10. Sudan


Editor’s Note: