2014 to push international relief system ‘to the limit’, warns UN

The year ahead will provide a severe test of the international community’s relief capacity and fundraising capabilities, according to the head of the UN’s humanitarian and emergency relief agency.

Valerie Amos announced last Thursday that millions of people have started the year as internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees, putting immense pressure on relief systems scrambling to provide food and shelter.

“We ended 2013 with three Level 3 system-wide emergencies. Level 3’s are our highest level of humanitarian crisis… We enter 2014 with multiple, severe humanitarian crises threatening or affecting the lives of millions of people,” said Amos in New York. “Our collective response capacity and our resources are being stretched to the limit.”

Amos’ announcement comes on the heels of a recent report from the UN refugee agency, which warned that last year saw the highest levels of forced displacement since the 1990s. UNHCR said 5.9 million people fled their homes in the first six months of 2013, compared to 7.6 million for the whole of 2012. The overall figure for 2013 is expected to surpass 2012’s total, mainly due to large outflows from Syria.

The report describes the first half of 2013 as “one of the worst periods for forced displacement in decades”. The Level 3 emergencies are Syria, the Philippines and the Central African Republic, said Amos.

Nearly half a million people face hunger in the violence-racked African state since fighting broke out in early 2013. The UNHCR says more than 935,000 people have so far been displaced by the strife.

The humanitarian situation in Syria remains critical as the UN calls for an unprecedented amount of funding to help the 6.3 million trapped in the country and the 2.3 million Syrian refugees. Amos called on the international community to do its utmost at the second Syria pledging conference in Kuwait on January 15th. I

n December the UN launched its overall 2014 appeal for $12.9bn to reach 52 million people in 17 countries. Other critically displaced populations are in South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Mali as well as Afghanistan, Myanmar and Haiti.

According to the 2013 UNHCR report, Afghanistan is still the world's leading source country of refugees with 2.6 million, and Pakistan the largest host country sheltering 1.6 million. Worldwide, the tally by the end of 2012 stood at 45.2 million displaced people. UNHCR expects to announce updated figures in mid-2014.