Watchlist countries account for about 10% of the world’s population, but approximately 86% of global humanitarian need, 70% of displaced persons, a growing share of people facing extreme poverty and climate risk.
The report sheds light on what is happening globally and why - and warns of worsening humanitarian crises fueled by climate risk, conflict, economic pressures, growing impunity, and waning international support.
New York, NY, December 14, 2023 — Today, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) releases its annual Emergency Watchlist of the 20 countries most at risk of intensifying humanitarian emergency in 2024. Sudan, occupied Palestinian Territory and South Sudan top the list, with the 20 Watchlist countries accounting for about 10% of the world’s population, but approximately 86% of global humanitarian need.
Sudan, where fighting broke out in April 2023, tops the Emergency Watchlist this year after not featuring in the top ten last year. Large-scale urban warfare, minimal international attention and risk of regional spillover threatens a dramatic deterioration in 2024 with 25 million people already in humanitarian need, and 6 million displaced.
The occupied Palestinian territory is second on this year’s Watchlist. Gaza enters 2024 as the deadliest place for civilians in the world. Following the horrific October 7 attacks by Hamas, Israel’s bombardment of hospitals, infrastructure, denial of humanitarian access, combined with massive displacement means that 3 million people living in oPt will be in need of humanitarian aid in 2024. The IRC expects even more severe needs in 2024 - especially with the imminent collapse of Gaza’s healthcare system.
South Sudan continues to suffer from the worst impacts of conflict and climate change, with El Niño-induced flooding predicted for next year. The impacts of the war in Sudan threaten to further destabilize the country’s fragile economy, and the IRC anticipates an uptick in violence ahead of the country’s first-ever elections scheduled for December 2024.
For the first time, eight of the top 10 countries on the Watchlist are in Africa. The continent is seeing some countries achieve fast growth and rising living standards. However, conflict, coups and poverty are rising at alarming rates. Since 2010, there has been a more than doubling of armed groups operating across African Watchlist countries - with nearly half experiencing unconstitutional transfers of power in the last five years.
The report shows the overlap between conflict, the climate crisis, state fragility, and economic emergency - with 14 Watchlist countries appearing in the list of states where conflict and extreme climate vulnerability both occur.
Watchlist rejects a series of faulty arguments as “myths”: that rich countries host a disproportionate share of refugees, that trucks of aid are enough to serve civilian populations, or that gender inequality is not a matter of life and death. Instead, the report identifies six priorities for urgent action, including a new premium on climate action to help economic adaptation in fragile states; using civil society organizations to deliver support where governments cannot reach; urgent recommitment to and increase in International Development Assistance grant-based support for fragile and conflict states; support for shared prosperity through strengthened safety nets, and new action to stem the slide to impunity.
IRC President and CEO David Miliband said:
“For many of the people IRC serves, this is the worst of times. Today, an increasing concentration of global humanitarian need in Watchlist countries is pushed by factors like disproportionate exposure to climate risk, increasing impunity in conflict zones, the rise in conflict, and an increase in public debt matched with diminishing international support. The statistics laid out and the stories told here are not just IRC’s problem, but the world’s problem. They deserve to be understood and solved.
“The headlines today are rightly dominated by the crisis in Gaza. There is good reason for that - it is currently the most dangerous place in the world to be a civilian. The ranking of occupied Palestinian territory as second in the Watchlist reflects that. But the Watchlist is a vital reminder that other parts of the world are on fire as well, for structural reasons relating to conflict, climate and economy. We must be able to address more than one crisis at once.
“In the face of compounding pressures, the Watchlist is a warning against apathy and inertia. There are plenty of ‘answers’ that are simply wrong. In this year’s Watchlist we reject a series of faulty, often convenient myths, that obstruct not only our view of the emerging geography of global crisis but how to chart a course through it. Truck deliveries on their own cannot deliver aid; aid workers and civilians need to be safe. Europe and the US do not take a disproportionate share of refugees; most are in much poorer countries. Climate change is not tomorrow’s problem; the climate crisis is happening today in Watchlist countries.
“Alongside the myths, there are ideas that, if implemented, could work better. This is the focus of our recommendations. They call on states, civil society, multilateral organizations, and the private sector to adopt a new approach. That is why we highlight a new premium on climate adaptation and women’s empowerment, a people-first shift for the World Bank, and new action to stem the slide of impunity. The debate about these ideas is urgently needed, and real answers even more so.”
IRC’s 2024 Emergency Watchlist At A Glance
Ranked Top 10
occupied Palestinian territory (oPt)
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Unranked Second Half
Central African Republic
Notes to Editors:
Key Trends, Myths & Recommendations
For the past decade, the Emergency Watchlist report has successfully predicted on average 85-95% of the 20 countries facing the worst deteriorations and has helped the IRC determine where to focus our emergency preparedness efforts. It is based on an analytically rigorous process that deploys 65 quantitative and qualitative variables, as well as qualitative insights from the IRC’s experience of working in more than 50 countries around the world to identify which countries to include on the list and where to rank them. Read the full report here.
IRC analysis identifies 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. The percentage of conflicts taking place in climate-vulnerable countries increased from 44% to 67% over the past three decades. Watchlist countries contribute less than 2% of global carbon emissions, but are facing a disproportionate burden of the climate crisis - set to worsen next year in many countries affected by El Niño.
Secondly, conflicts are becoming more complex, internationalized, and abusive.The number of armed groups in Watchlist countries is higher than ever before, and the role of regional or global powers in fueling conflict is growing. 90% of casualties during conflicts are civilians. Parties to conflict are also restricting humanitarian access and targeting humanitarian personnel without facing diplomatic or legal consequences.
Humanitarian responses to crises are buckling under the weight of access, resource, and political constraints. Humanitarian responses remain underfunded, and the global increase in public debt is preventing governments from effectively responding to humanitarian crises. Twelve out of 20 countries on the Watchlist are either in debt distress already or are at moderate to high risk of falling into it.
This year, the IRC Watchlist also highlights 5 key myths that enable or facilitate inaction within the international community:
- Humanitarian access can be measured in truckloads of supplies alone;
- If you don’t work with governments, you can’t get anything done;
- The U.S. and Europe are already hosting more than their fair share of refugees;
- Cutting carbon emissions takes precedence over adaptation in addressing the climate crisis;
- Gender equality is not a matter of life or death.
Key IRC Recommendations
- Save lives in fragile and conflict-affected states by investing in climate adaptation, resilience and anticipatory action:
- 50% of all public climate finance to developing countries should be allocated to adaptation by 2025 in line with the U.N. Secretary General’s target.
- 20% of all multilateral development bank (MDB) and other multilateral climate finance to conflict- and climate-impacted countries should be channeled via non-governmental organizations, including local NGOs and women-led organizations.
- A minimum 5% of humanitarian budgets should be spent on anticipatory action, with a strategy for further expansion by 2030.
- Tackle extreme poverty and the drivers of rising humanitarian needs.
- Increase the World Bank’s ability to work in complex emergencies through new partnerships.
- Increase investment in social safety nets and cash responses. Donors and development banks should expand inclusive social assistance and cash support, with a particular focus on Africa.
- Establish a new mechanism to forecast the implications of economic shocks for humanitarian needs and response. U.N. member states should establish and fund an inter-agency mechanism to address the humanitarian impact of economic fragility, housed in UN-OCHA.
- Prioritize gender equality in crisis response and shift power and resources to women-led organizations (WLOs).
- Accelerate reforms to pooled funding.
- Bilateral donors should increase the level of humanitarian funding they channel through feminist funds - such as the Equality Fund, and the Women Peace and Humanitarian Fund. Rethink approaches to compliance and capacity sharing for equitable partnerships with WLOs.
- Promote shared prosperity by increasing aid and tackling the debt crisis.
- New investments in climate adaptation, humanitarian response, and poverty reduction – interventions that cannot be viewed in silos.
- The IRC is reiterating its call for OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) donors to commit half of all bilateral Official Development Assistance(ODA) to fragile and conflict-affected states.
- Donors should strive for an ambitious International Development Association replenishment (IDA21) while also committing to triple IDA by 2030. Address the burden of debt in Watchlist countries by exploring and expanding current and new approaches to ease the burden of creditor debt stocks, to support investment in humanitarian response, climate adaptation and social protection.
- Support and protect forcibly displaced people.
- Humane reception - Governments should seek to systematically apply a protection-centered approach to the design of reception processes to allow asylum seekers to find protection and access services, and states to maintain safe and orderly processes at their borders, and in doing so, reduce pressure on asylum systems.
- Donors and multilateral development banks (MDBs) need to drive support for initiatives that offer real opportunities for self-reliance. Where necessary, donors and MDBs should also advocate for policy and legislative changes, including freedom of movement and the right to work, to facilitate inclusion and underpin self-reliance.
- Predictable, multiyear funding should be utilized to support humanitarian and development interventions that meet the needs of displaced people and their host communities. Such efforts must recognize the specific needs of displaced women.
- Stem impunity and reinforce International Humanitarian Law
- Bring forward the same mechanisms authorized by the U.N. General Assembly, Human Rights Council and bilaterally in response to the invasion of Ukraine for new crises as part of a new “Accountability Menu”.
- Support the France-Mexico declaration to suspend the use of the veto in the case of mass atrocities, with the determination of what constitutes a mass atrocity made through an independent and neutral panel, as established by the UN General Assembly.
- Establish a new Independent Access Organization (IAO) to improve reporting on access, raise awareness of its impacts, and catalyze action by global, regional, and national-level policy makers.