Global trends and challenges
More than 1 per cent of people across the planet right now are caught up in major humanitarian crises. The international humanitarian system is more effective than ever at meeting their needs – but global trends including poverty, population growth and climate change are leaving more people than ever vulnerable to the devastating impacts of conflicts and disasters.
Humanitarian needs are increasing despite global economic and development gains. In the past decade, the world has made profound development progress. Between 2008 and 2015, the number of people living in extreme poverty fell from 1.2 billion to 736 million. The world is also richer than ever before: global GDP rose from $63.4 trillion in 2008 to $80.7 trillion in 2017.
But in recent years, more than 120 million people each year have needed urgent humanitarian assistance and protection. There are more crises, affecting more people, and lasting longer today than a decade ago. Most humanitarian crises are not the product of any single factor or event, but of the interaction between natural hazards, armed conflict and human vulnerability.
People’s vulnerability to crises is not just about where they live, but also about how they live.
Poverty, inequality, population growth, urbanization and climate change can erode people’s resilience and make them more susceptible to shocks. Although development gains are being made, progress has been uneven. The rate of extreme poverty remains high in low-income countries and in countries affected by conflict. Crises have disproportionate consequences for the poor: people exposed to natural hazards in the poorest nations are at least seven times more likely to die from them than those in the richest nations.
Fragile and conflict-affected areas are growing faster and urbanizing more rapidly than the rest of the world
In the past five years, the world’s population has grown by 400 million people, from 7.2 billion in 2014 to 7.6 billion in 2017. Although global population growth has slowed compared with previous decades, the rate has been uneven. Today, an estimated 2 billion people live in fragile and conflict affected areas of the word, where they are extremely vulnerable to the impact of conflicts and disasters. This number is projected to increase, as the population in these areas is growing twice as fast as the rest of the world, with an annual growth rate of 2.4 per cent, compared with 1.2 per cent globally. And the urban population in fragile areas grows by 3.4 per cent each year, compared with the world average of 2 per cent. These trends can compound resource scarcity and increase vulnerability to disasters. Urban population density can also amplify the impact of disasters and conflicts. In 2017, when explosive weapons were used in populated areas, 92 per cent of casualties were civilians, compared with 20 per cent in other areas. The populations of countries affected by fragility, conflict and violence are also younger than the global average. Whereas the proportion of the world’s population under 14 years of age has been steadily declining to about 25 per cent today, the average for countries in fragile situations is 40 per cent. As a result, one in every four children in the world is living in a country affected by conflict or disaster, facing threats of violence, hunger and disease. In 2017, more than 75 million children experienced disruptions to their education because of humanitarian crises, threatening not only their present well-being, but their future prospects as well.
More people are being displaced by conflicts
By the end of 2017, war, violence and persecution had uprooted 68.5 million men, women and children around the world – the highest number on record, and nearly 10 million more people than in 2014. Just over 40 million people were internally displaced by violence within their own countries, and 25.4 million refugees and 3.1 million asylum seekers were forced to flee their countries to escape conflict and persecution. The levels of new displacements far outstrip returns or other solutions. In 2017, 5 million people returned to their areas or countries of origin, but 16.2 million people were newly displaced – an average of one person displaced every two seconds, and the highest level of new displacement on record.
The rise in forced displacement is not the result of an increase in conflicts. In fact, after peaking in 2014, the number of political conflicts worldwide decreased by about 10 per cent, from 424 in 2014 to 385 in 2017, although there are still more conflicts compared with a decade ago (328 in 2007). However, during the same period, the proportion of violent and highly violent conflicts, which are more likely to cause human suffering, destruction and displacement, increased from 53 per cent to 58 per cent of all conflicts worldwide.5 The total economic impact of conflict and violence has also increased, from $14.3 trillion in 2014 to $14.8 trillion in 2017.6 The major share of both the human and economic cost of conflicts is borne by developing countries, which host 85 per cent of refugees.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.