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IRC Emergency Watchlist 2022: Afghanistan tops list of countries most at risk in year ahead; IRC finds global “System Failure” fueling crises and driving record levels of humanitarian need

  • 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

  • Funding
    • Redirect official development assistance (ODA) to target contexts hit hardest by System Failure: Donors should commit 50% - a doubling of current assistance - of ODA to fragile and conflict-affected states. 
    • Bring crisis settings into the fight against climate change by increasing the proportion of financing directed to them and dedicating half of the annual $100 billion commitment to developing countries for adaptation needs.
  • COVID/Vaccines
    • Combat global COVID inequity by redistributing excess vaccines from wealthy countries, removing obstacles to countries in the Global South to produce vaccines, and financing distribution in fragile and conflict-affected settings.
  • Displacement
    • Commit to a “New Deal for those Forcibly Displaced’ by resettling 400,000 refugees in 2022 and supporting debt relief for states on the frontlines of the world’s refugee crisis. 

Tackling the root causes:

  • Support the French proposal to suspend the veto in the UN Security Council in cases of mass atrocities to overcome the Council’s paralysis on some of the world’s most severe conflicts.
  • The UN Security Council need to act urgently to ensure sanctions are not hindering the humanitarian response in Afghanistan.
  • Establish an Organization for the Protection of Humanitarian Access to bring new status and force to expose the strangulation and weaponization of humanitarian aid. 
  • Build commitment to international humanitarian law (IHL) into global military partnerships. 
  • Use the legal principle of universal jurisdiction to prosecute those committing egregious abuses and violations of international humanitarian law as a blow against impunity and a warning to would-be violators of humanitarian law.
  • Combat the fueling of hate and division by pressing social media companies to prioritize conflict-affected settings where tensions online risk spilling over into real world crisis dynamics.  


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 livestream here

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

Read more about the top ten countries on the 2022 Emergency Watchlist here.

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


  • Burkina Faso
  • Cameroon
  • Central African Republic
  • Haiti
  • Honduras
  • Lebanon
  • Mali
  • Mozambique
  • Niger
  • Venezuela

Editor’s Note: 

  • In Afghanistan, the recent crisis and spiraling economy has plunged 59% of the population - 24.4 million people - into urgent need of humanitarian aid, and the country could see near universal poverty in 2022 with 97% of Afghans at risk. The UN Security Council need to act urgently to ensure sanctions are not hindering the humanitarian response in Afghanistan. It cannot wait a minute longer.
    • The country ranks last (170 out of 170 countries) for women’s equality. 
    • Afghans are running out of money while prices of basic items—from food to medicine—are skyrocketing.
  • Ethiopia faces a perfect storm as climate change, weather shocks and ongoing conflict across the country push hundreds of thousands of people to the brink of famine, according to the UN.
    • The country ranks 5/5 for constraints to humanitarian access as aid organizations struggle to reach people in northern Ethiopia with life-saving assistance. 
    • With just 1.23% of the country vaccinated, Ethiopians will struggle to fight new COVID-19 variants.
  • The war in Yemen continues to be a hallmark of the age of impunity with repeated attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure - with no party being held accountable. 
    • The conflict has destroyed the economy and the public health system teeters on the brink of collapse. 
    • Ranking 168 out of 170 for women’s equality, women and girls face increasing risk of violence.
About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and over 20 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.