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These are the humanitarian crises expected to worsen in 2023

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This time of year is often felt as a season of hope. But there are persisting problems all across the planet and millions of people endangered by hunger, by climate destruction, and threats to democracy and freedom. The International Rescue Committee released its watchlist this week of crises that are expected to worsen and to which attention must be paid. David Miliband, president and CEO of the IRC, who, of course, is a former British foreign secretary, joins us from New York. David, thanks so much for being with us.

DAVID MILIBAND: Thank you, Scott. Good to be with you.

SIMON: Please draw our attention to two or three areas that you believe the world has to pay particular note to right now.

MILIBAND: The International Rescue Committee's emergency watchlist is a really unique resource. It draws on 67 different data sources and on the advice of our staff in 200 field offices around the toughest parts of the world to signal which of the 20 countries are most likely to experience humanitarian distress in the next year. Top is Somalia, then Ethiopia, then Afghanistan, then Yemen, then the Democratic Republic of Congo. Those are the top five. And these 20 countries on the watchlist represent 90% of total humanitarian need.

SIMON: And you say in the course of this report that there is often next to no attention given to these many countries. And my next to no attention is not metaphorical. Just about 1% of media coverage is on these countries.

MILIBAND: Yes. I mean, obviously there are problems at home, and all politics is local. But this is a connected world today. Risks are global. We learned that in the pandemic. We can learn that from the climate crisis. And our point is that there's a moral reason why we shouldn't let people starve in Somalia or in Ethiopia when we know we can stop that starvation. But it's also a strategic point that if the world continues to believe that while risks are global, resilience can just be done nation by nation, we're going to fail.

SIMON: You do make the point that there are notes of hope in places like Yemen and Bangladesh. I wonder if I could get you to talk about that.

MILIBAND: Yes. The ceasefire agreement in Yemen, the climate resilience adaptation in Bangladesh that has prevented thousands of people dying as a result of the cyclones that are hitting that country. And too often, I think in the aid sector and the charity sector, people focus on suffering. And we want to combat the idea that, quote-unquote, "nothing can be done." It's actually a choice to weaken the guardrails, to weaken the protection of civilians in conflicts, to fail to address the climate crisis or to adapt to its impacts.

And our report - it shows in three key areas how we can turn the tide. One, we have to break the cycle that leads from food insecurity to famine. Second, we have to protect civilians better in conflicts, and we have a suggestion about how to combat the climate of fear that prevents NGOs and the U.N. speaking out against governments that are abusing the rights of their own citizens. And thirdly, we have to manage global risks like pandemics, like the climate crisis, in a far more effective way.

SIMON: I want to draw you out a little bit on how the climate of fear can be combated as far as you're concerned.

MILIBAND: Yeah, the climate of fear that I'm referring to is that for aid organizations, for U.N. officials, they're in countries which are very, very sensitive to criticism and where aid is being denied to civilians. We propose, for example, the creation of an independent office for the protection and promotion of humanitarian access that could speak without fear or favor to those governments and non-state actors who are preventing the delivery of aid.

SIMON: What would you suggest the resources of the world can do to both make migration unnecessary, which is is often the result of conflict or climate change, and at the same time to, if I might put it this way, unlock the hearts of Western nations who - some seem increasingly resistant to receiving larger numbers of refugees?

MILIBAND: Well, I think those two questions are connected. The first thing to say about migration is that untended humanitarian crisis inevitably leads to the flow of people. No problem that starts in Syria or starts in Ethiopia or starts in Myanmar ends there. In terms of unlocking the hearts, the pope several years ago spoke about the globalization of indifference. I don't know if one's allowed to argue with the pope on WEEKEND EDITION, but my perspective is slightly different - not a globalization of indifference, but a global feeling about not knowing how to make a difference. And Ukraine is a good example. The humanitarian and refugee response - just leaving aside the military - the humanitarian and refugee response has set a standard. The world can do it. The question is whether it decides to.

SIMON: David Miliband is president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee. Thank you so much for being with us.

MILIBAND: Thank you so much, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: December 18, 2022 at 12:00 AM EST
An earlier headline for this story incorrectly referred to the International Rescue Committee's watchlist of humanitarian crises for the coming year as a list for 2024. The list is for 2023.
Scott Simon
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.