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Humanitarian Assistance Needs Spike Due to Coronavirus Crisis

Humanitarian Assistance Needs Spike Due to Coronavirus Crisis

On World Humanitarian Day, The Media Line looks at COVID-related needs in the MENA region's most vulnerable countries

The UN has designated August 19 as World Humanitarian Day to honor the memory of a veteran Brazilian diplomat, Sérgio Vieira de Mello, who, on this day 18 years ago, gave his life in service to the protection of human rights and delivery of humanitarian aid for those in need.

On August 19, 2003, a suicide truck bomb targeting the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq, based at the Canal Hotel in Baghdad, killed 22 people, including Vieira de Mello, the UN’s high commissioner for human rights and special representative in Iraq, and 20 members of his staff.

Vieira de Mello worked for decades on humanitarian missions in hotspots around the world, such as Mozambique, Cambodia, Lebanon, Kosovo, and East Timor. When he was killed, he was considered a leading candidate to take the top spot as secretary-general at the UN.

In recognition of World Humanitarian Day, The Media Line looks at the need for humanitarian assistance due to the coronavirus crisis among the most vulnerable countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

Ongoing violence in conflict zones such as Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Libya, and the Palestinian territories have left millions of people in the MENA region dependent on humanitarian assistance. The coronavirus pandemic has significantly increased the need for such assistance, in this region and around the world, while the economic crisis caused by the pandemic has sapped the funds available to cover that need. Meanwhile, with soaring temperatures in the MENA region now widely linked to electricity and water shortages, the outbreak and spread of wildfires, and political unrest, it’s clear that even in a post-pandemic world, the global climate crisis will continue to fuel ever-rising needs for humanitarian assistance.

The UN estimates that almost 235 million people – 1 in 33 people worldwide – will need humanitarian assistance in 2021. This represents a 40% increase over the pre-pandemic period and a near tripling since 2014.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) focuses its humanitarian response to the coronavirus crisis in the MENA region on nine particularly vulnerable countries: Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, the Palestinian territories, Syria, Turkey and Yemen.

OCHA also includes Afghanistan, Pakistan, Djibouti, Somalia and Sudan in its Humanitarian Response Plan but considers these to be outside the MENA region, with the former two in the Asia-Pacific region and the latter three in its Southern and Eastern Africa region.

According to OCHA, 41.5 million people in the nine MENA countries are in need of humanitarian assistance. As a percentage of the population, the highest proportion is in Syria, where 74.3% of residents require humanitarian assistance. In Yemen, more than 69% of the population depends on such assistance, and in the Palestinian territories, about 50% does.

OCHA tracks the level of humanitarian funding per country as a percentage of the funding required, as defined by its COVID-19 Humanitarian Response Plan. In the MENA region, of $9.29 billion in humanitarian assistance needed, only 37.8% has been made available.

The Palestinian territories are the best funded, with 74.6% of funding needs met, while funding for Yemen, Libya, Iraq and Syria all fall below 50% of need – with funding for the latter at just 25% of need. Likewise, the COVID-19 humanitarian response funding for Somalia stands at 40% of need; Afghanistan, 37%; Sudan, 24%; and in Pakistan, the level of funding as compared to need is a mere 18%.

Additional funds for COVID-19-related humanitarian assistance are available to countries through the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and Country-Based Pooled Funds (CBPF).

Yemen received $40 million in CERF funding for 2021, while Somalia received $27 million, Afghanistan $15 million, Sudan $6.5 million, and the Palestinian territories $4.5 million from CERF.

CBPF allocations for 2021 in the MENA region totaled $48 million, with the largest share ($16 million) going to the Palestinian territories and smaller amounts to Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, and Jordan. In addition, CBPF provided $22 million in humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan, $13 million for Somalia, and $6.9 million for Sudan.

Using the Integrated Phase Classification standard for measuring food insecurity, 16.1 million Yemenis suffer from acute food insecurity. This includes households in which food insecurity is at crisis level, with high or above-usual acute malnutrition, and worse, up to and including famine.

In addition, 9.8 million people in Sudan, 9.5 million in Afghanistan, 3.3 million in Pakistan, 2.7 million in Somalia, and nearly 200,000 in Djibouti suffer from crisis level or worse food insecurity.

Even where food insecurity is not currently widespread, spikes in the price of food commodities are a warning sign of vulnerability and an indication of the need for humanitarian assistance. In Sudan, the prices of 100% of food commodities are considered to be at crisis level. In Lebanon, the figure is 93%; in Syria, 76%; and in Turkey and Pakistan, 50%.

OCHA has helped coordinate the delivery of 8.2 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in the MENA region, in five countries: Libya (3.4 million doses delivered), Iraq (2.1 million), the Palestinian territories (1.5 million), Syria (740,000), and Yemen (360,000). In addition, it coordinated the delivery of 53 million doses to Pakistan, 5.2 million doses to Afghanistan, 1.7 million to Sudan, and 910,000 to Somalia.

Here are the latest COVID-19 numbers for the Middle East and North Africa as of 6:30 pm Greenwich Mean Time (UTC±0) on Thursday.


CountryConfirmed CasesDeathsRecoveredActive Cases
Palestinian Territories322,6203,627313,6475,346
Saudi Arabia540,7438,449526,4365,858
United Arab Emirates706,1662,012686,02518,129


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