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An elderly woman stands, hands on hips,  in a dry field in Ethiopia during a drought.
2021 Emergency Watchlist

Beyond COVID-19: Test your knowledge of the world's worst crises

Photo: Tyler Jump/IRC

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic dominated news headlines worldwide, 2020 emerged as one of the worst years on record for humanitarian crises. Test your knowledge, then learn more about 10 crises the International Rescue Committee (IRC) expects to significantly deteriorate over the course of 2021—and what can be done to help.

Select one.
How many people worldwide are displaced by conflict and crisis?
  • 30 million
  • Over 50 million
  • 70 million
  • Nearly 80 million

Global displacement owing to war, violence, persecution and other emergencies reached a staggering 79.5 million people in 2019 according to figures released annually by the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, on World Refugee Day (June 20, 2020).

This almost 80 million figure is the highest UNHCR has ever recorded and represents approximately 1% of the world's population. 

Select one.
At the end of 2020, which country was the epicenter of the worst outbreak of locusts in decades?
  • Afghanistan
  • Ethiopia
  • Mali
  • Syria

At the end of 2020, Ethiopia was the epicenter of the largest locust outbreak in decades.

Unusually good summer rains led to numerous new swarms forming in October. At least 1 million farmers have suffered crop losses due to the locusts. As a result, 11 million Ethiopians may face a hunger crisis in the first half of 2021. Children are particularly affected; the number of children admitted to health facilities for severe acute malnutrition had already reached record levels in 2020.

What is being done?

Efforts to control the locust swarms are underway, but the scale of the challenge and the reality that locust control activities are impossible in parts of neighboring Somalia—and may be disrupted by growing conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region—mean that there is a real risk of further growth in locust numbers and major disruption to food production in 2021.

How the IRC helps

The IRC is calling for an urgent international response to the crisis in Ethiopia, ranking it 5 of 20 countries in our 2021 Watchlist.

From cash relief to job skills training, the IRC is also providing a wide range of assistance for refugees and vulnerable Ethiopian communities as the country faces escalating conflict, climate change, desert locusts and COVID-19. Learn more about our work in Ethiopia.

True or False?
People living in the least developed countries are ten times more likely to be affected by a climate disaster than those living in wealthy countries.
  • True
  • False

Climate change has a highly unequal impact. People living in the least developed countries are ten times more likely to be affected by a climate disaster than those living in wealthy countries. Of the ten countries identified by a University of Notre Dame index of countries most vulnerable to climate change and other global challenges, seven—Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger, Somalia and Sudan—are on this year’s IRC Emergency Watchlist.

Here’s what can be done

Among the recommendations for world leaders in our 2021 Watchlist, the IRC calls for updating the multilateral system to meet the triple threat of conflict, climate and COVID-19. This triple threat requires coordinated, international responses given the global nature of these challenges and the weak capacity in many of the countries most affected to respond.

Select one.
Which country has the most people in need of humanitarian aid?
  • Bangladesh
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Ethiopia
  • Yemen

Inside Yemen, 24.3 million people —80% of the country’s population—are in need of aid. Over five years of major armed conflict and severe underfunding pushed the world's largest humanitarian crisis to new lows in 2020 and left the humanitarian response on the brink of collapse.

There is no sign of a political resolution to the crisis as the COVID-19 pandemic and a steep drop in international aid puts the country at risk of massive further deterioration.

Here’s what can be done

In addition to increased humanitarian funding—among other urgent recommendations in our 2021 Watchlist—the IRC is calling for world leaders to prioritize diplomacy to end conflict, and to remove bureaucratic obstacles that prevent aid from reaching people in need.

“Humanitarians like the IRC will stay and deliver even in the most complex, protracted crises,” says IRC president and CEO David Miliband. “But it will take politics to produce long-term solutions.”

How the IRC helps

The IRC provides lifesaving emergency aid, clean water, education, women’s protection, and medical care to millions of people in Yemen affected by the conflict and a growing health crisis.

Learn more about the crisis in Yemen and the IRC’s response.

Select one.
The collapse of which country's oil industry has been a key factor in its deepening humanitarian crisis?
  • Lebanon
  • Nigeria
  • Venezuela
  • All of the above

The collapse of Venezuela’s oil industry—which historically accounted for 25% of GDP and 95% of exports—has been a key factor in the deepening economic crisis in the country in recent years.

Oil exports dropped in October 2020 to the lowest levels in 70 years and ever-tightening U.S. sanctions mean there is little likelihood of major recovery in 2021. In fact, Venezuela’s economic crisis is likely to deepen even further in 2021 due to COVID-19—leading to growing poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition as restrictions aimed at controlling the pandemic continue to eliminate many people’s livelihoods.

How the IRC helps

The IRC is calling for an urgent international response to the crisis in Venezuela, ranking it number 9 in our 2021 Watchlist.

Through our local partner organizations, the IRC also provides vulnerable Venezuelans with vital access to health care, child malnutrition services, cash assistance, child protection, and support for women survivors of violence. We also supply Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for doctors and nurses responding to COVID-19.

The IRC also provides health care lifesaving support to Venezuelans in neighboring Colombia.

Learn more about our work in Venezuela and Colombia.

True or False?
Women and girls are hit the hardest by humanitarian crises, including COVID-19.
  • True
  • False

Humanitarian crises have a disproportionate impact on women and girls. The COVID-19 pandemic is no exception as they face devastating harm to economic opportunities, schooling, and access to health care in crisis countries. They are also those most likely to be left out of government-led assistance either by accident or by design.

Worldwide, women and girls represent more than 70% of people facing chronic hunger. And in some conflict areas 70% of women and girls experience gender-based violence.

Here’s what can be done

Target those at risk of being left behind: Women and other vulnerable populations should be included in all aspects of humanitarian responses—from national health systems to social safety nets to the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine. Read about the IRC’s recommendations in our 2021 Watchlist.

What the IRC is doing

While providing direct humanitarian assistance, the IRC is also working to break down barriers for women and girls and ensure gender equality is a cornerstone of all our programs. We also work to ensure as many women as possible have the ability and power to create real change in their lives and communities. Narrowing the gender gap calls for addressing inequalities within our own organization, both through our hiring practices and how we operate day-to-day.

Select one.
Which of these countries simultaneously fought COVID-19 and two separate Ebola outbreaks during 2020?
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Liberia
  • Sierra Leone
  • All of the above

The Democratic Republic of Congo fought outbreaks of both Ebola and the novel coronavirus in 2020.

How the IRC helps

The IRC was at the forefront of the fight to contain the Ebola virus during the outbreak in Liberia and Sierra Leone in 2014. We also responded to recent Ebola outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.

The IRC is scaling up our global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with a focus on reaching the most vulnerable people where we work.

Learn about our response in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Fill in the blank:
The number of people globally in need of aid has__________ between 2015 and 2021.
  • Dropped by 30%
  • Doubled
  • Tripled
  • Stayed the same

The number of people globally in need of assistance has tripled between 2015 and 2021, rising to 235.4 million – up by 40% on the number of people in need in 2020, according to the United Nations Global Humanitarian Overview 2021.

Here’s what can be done

Global needs are at record levels in large part due to a limited set of crises that continue to deteriorate year after year. “Watchlist 2021 should serve as a wake-up call for policymakers, government leaders, and concerned citizens around the world about the cost of neglecting humanitarian crises—and how they urgently need international attention,” says IRC president and CEO David Miliband.

How the IRC helps

The IRC pairs our advocacy with action. We respond to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and help people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover and gain control of their future. In more than 40 countries and over 20 U.S. cities, our dedicated teams provide clean water, shelter, health care, education and empowerment support to refugees and displaced people.

Read more about our impact.

The triple threat of conflict, COVID-19 and climate change will drive humanitarian crises in 2021, says the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in our latest Watchlist report.

...the greatest humanitarian emergencies of 2021 will almost all be neglected, long-standing crises...

"The word ‘crisis’ often implies a new and unexpected situation," says IRC presdient and CEO David Miliband. "But the truth is that the greatest humanitarian emergencies of 2021 will almost all be neglected, long-standing crises that have been the global epicenter of conflict, displacement, and extreme poverty for the past decade."

There is still time to reverse these concerning trends and prevent the worst outcomes for countries in crisis in 2021 if world leaders—and all of us—take action.

Learn more

Read about the top 10 crisis countries for 2021.

Get involved

Support the IRC’s lifesaving work as a monthly donor.