• Somalia, Ethiopia and Afghanistan top IRC’s list of countries most at risk of deteriorating humanitarian crises in 2023.

  • IRC analysis finds the guardrails designed to protect against humanitarian crises are being weakened and dismantled by three main accelerators - conflict, climate change and economic turmoil.

  • The 20 Watchlist countries are home to 13% of the global population, but account for 90% of all those in humanitarian need (304 million of 339.2 million total) and 81% of people who are forcibly displaced.

  • Watchlist countries account for 100% of people facing catastrophic food insecurity.

  • Humanitarian crises in these countries on the Watchlist account for just 1% of media coverage in top-tier global publications*

  • IRC calls for breaking the cycle of crisis, protecting civilians in conflict, and confronting shared global risks.

Today the International Rescue Committee (IRC) released its annual Emergency Watchlist, highlighting the 20 countries most at risk of deteriorating humanitarian crises in 2023. 

This year, Somalia, Ethiopia and Afghanistan top the Watchlist, as East Africa faces the worst drought in decades and economic turmoil continues to compound needs in  Afghanistan. 

With over a third of a billion people in humanitarian need around the world and 100 million people displaced, IRC expert analysis clearly shows that the guardrails designed to prevent humanitarian crises from spiraling out of control - from diplomatic agreements and law-of-war tribunals to climate early warning systems and humanitarian aid itself -  are being dismantled. Beyond the individual crises to watch, the report dives deep into the three major accelerators of humanitarian crises - armed conflict, climate change, and economic turmoil - and highlights what can be done to rebuild guardrails against a runaway world.

David Miliband, President and CEO of the IRC said, 

“The Emergency Watchlist shows record levels of humanitarian need in 2022 and real peril ahead for 2023. 

“A year ago we diagnosed a global ‘System Failure’ - deficits in respect of state actions, diplomacy, legal rights and humanitarian operations that are driving the increased numbers of people in humanitarian need. Yet humanitarian need, forced displacement and food insecurity have all worsened since then. This system failure can be seen in this year’s figures: humanitarian need has jumped by 65 million people since last year, displacement has ballooned to over 100 million people. 

“In this year’s Watchlist, we address the spiraling humanitarian need at ground level. The evidence we present 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 spiraling 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 unraveling 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 spiraling. 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.” 

Laura Kyrke-Smith, IRC UK Executive Director, added,

“This year’s Emergency Watchlist is a wake-up call.

The UK Government must use the full force of its development and diplomacy to break the cycle of escalating crisis that the Watchlist describes. This means better protecting civilians in conflict, reinvigorating global responses to famine, and ring-fencing at least half of its aid budget for fragile and conflict affected countries such as Ethiopia, Somalia and Afghanistan.

Stepping up to prevent and respond to the crises in this year's Watchlist will help to save lives, and serves as an opportunity for Britain to remind the world of its strength and compassion.”


Notes to editors

  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 organization on humanitarian access, combatting 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. Somalia
  2. Ethiopia
  3. Afghanistan
  4. Democratic Republic of Congo 
  5. Yemen
  6. Syria
  7. South Sudan
  8. Burkina Faso
  9. Haiti
  10. Ukraine