From superstorms wracking North America and South East Asia to enduring conflicts across Africa and the Middle East, 2012 saw several humanitarian crises. Many of these crises have been going on for several years, but a few could not have been predicted. Here are the top seven problems the world never expected to face in 2012.
1. Hurricane Sandy
24 U.S. states were affected, killing at least 131 people and leaving millions without power and thousands without homes. After Katrina, it is the second highest costing storm in terms of property damage in the U.S. at $50 billion. Sandy was the deadliest hurricane to hit the U.S. since Katrina in 2005 and the deadliest on the East Coast since Diane in 1955.
In the Caribbean, Sandy caused billions more in property damage and hundreds of thousands to lose their homes across Haiti, Cuba, Jamaica, Dominican Republic and the Bahamas. A total of at least 253 people were killed across all affected areas.
2. Sudan/South Sudan
In July of 2011, South Sudan gained independence from Sudan, but it remains a weak and vulnerable new nation. Since independence, violence in both Sudans (along the border and in Eastern Sudan), movement of people across borders as well as new legal codes and economic issues have forced millions of Sudanese to leave their homes. 4.2 million people are internally displaced within Sudan by January 2012, and of those only 1.4 million are assisted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. This is on top of a further 700,000 that are refugees within neighboring countries or those returning to Sudan.
Fortunately, these figures are projected to decline in 2013, but by this time next year, 4 million people are still expected to be displaced within or outside of their home country. The overcrowded camps have been plagued by heavy rains and violence, leaving them inaccessible to aid efforts in some areas. Sudanese refugees have also reported hostility in host communities, which have complicated peace efforts.
The UN has warned that the number of people needing humanitarian aid in Syria could rise from 2.5 million to 4 million in early 2013. Those fleeing violence will increase to 700,000, bursting refugee camps and areas in neighboring countries. 40% of these refugees are under age 12, and female refugees outnumber men two to one.
There have also been accounts by Human Rights Watch that Syrians are being blocked access to asylum in Turkey and Iraq. At least 500 Syrians are crossing over into Turkey each day, sometimes reaching 11,000 people in one day. Tens of thousands of Syrians in Turkey are unregistered as needing help creating a ‘hidden emergency’ away from the camps. For those staying within Syria, over 28,000 civilians have been killed during the conflict as of November 2012. The humanitarian response has been deemed insufficient by Medicins Sans Frontiers and other organizations; governments say the need is much greater than expected.
The rebellion in Northern Mali, which began last January in an effort to gain independence for the region, has forced 360,000 people from their homes with at least half of this amount fleeing to neighboring countries in the long-suffering Sahel Region that are not equipped to provide for such an influx. Amnesty International has released reports in the last year that suggest that this is the worst human rights situation in the country since 1960 with many civilian casualties and violations.
On top of this, 3.5 million people have been affected by a food crisis, causing 175,000 children under five to become at risk of severe acute malnutrition. The rebellion hindered any humanitarian efforts working to alleviate this crisis.
Fortunately, the United Nations has unanimously authorized an African-led military force in Northern Mali () which may lead to better a humanitarian situation in 2013.
5. Democratic Republic of Congo
As rebel forces move and retreat once again over Goma over 140,000 people have been forced from the city. Many of these people are living in one of the 12 sites available for internally displace persons in the area, but the situations in these camps are dire, with overcrowding, rape, crime and insecure food supplies. While the rebels have currently left Goma, it is uncertain whether their next moves will be towards a peaceful solution to the conflict. This is just another chapter in DRC’s long history of violence since its war in 1998.
6. Typhoon Bopha
The Philippines were wracked by Typhoon Bopha in December, with more than 714 killed and hundreds still missing. Landslides destroyed buildings and created floods across southern Philippines. Bopha is the most powerful typhoon to hit the Mindanao region of the Philippines in decades and 5.4 million people were affected by the storm’s path, affecting over 213,000 people, many of whom are stranded by blocked roads (). Fortunately, local humanitarian authorities quickly responded, proof of the changes made since worse storms in 2009, and were able to provide assistance of food, clothing and shelter for those affected. More than 50,000 people were relocated ahead of the storm.
7. The Sahel
A severe drought in the Sahel region of Africa, which stretches across several countries, puts at least 18.7 million people at risk. Children are especially vulnerable to severe acute malnutrition, which can cause permanent mental and physical development issues. High food prices and armed conflict in Mali as well as fragile environments in this desert-like region exacerbate the food crises. Drought has reduced cereal production by 26%, and fodder shortages have created tensions as communities move their livestock in search of grazing areas.
Unfortunately, such crises are not new to the region. Without rapid action to support those currently affected and to begin to build prevention systems, the crisis is only likely to worsen in 2013.