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IRC watchlist highlights 20 countries facing the most dire humanitarian crises


The International Rescue Committee's annual watch list of global crises is out next week. It is a tough but essential read for anybody interested in, well, peace. The report tries to measure progress and regress in places that face humanitarian crises. It also looks at the correlation between calamities and armed conflicts. It highlights 20 countries that hold about a tenth of the world's population but carry about 86% of those people who face humanitarian crises.

David Miliband is the president and CEO of the IRC. Of course, he's also the former British foreign secretary. He joins us now from New York. Mr. Miliband, thanks so much for being with us.

DAVID MILIBAND: Thank you so much for having me on.

SIMON: Where would you like us to look?

MILIBAND: I think that the most striking thing about this watchlist this year is that some of the obvious places - Ukraine, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan - have dropped out of the Top 10 of the watchlist of humanitarian crises. In the Top 10 is obviously the crisis in Gaza. You'd expect that. All the headlines are devoted there. But No. 1 is Sudan, a country in the northeast of Africa - 25 million people in humanitarian need. And No. 3 is South Sudan, where some of the refugees - about 400,000 from Sudan - have gone.

And our point is that eight of the Top 10 crises - humanitarian crises in the world - are in Africa, and that while the concentration on Gaza is understandable, it shouldn't mean that these other crises are neglected because what we do know is when a humanitarian crisis is neglected, not only does the problem magnify; but it leads to political instability.

SIMON: What role does climate change play, do you think?

MILIBAND: Well, I use the phrase climate crisis, not climate change. The way in which the climate crisis contributes to humanitarian need is twofold. First of all, there are more disasters. And there are more disasters that are being concentrated in fragile states that are very weak in terms of the resilience that they offer. There's a very big overlap between the poorest countries and the concentration of climate crisis.

The second aspect is that the climate crisis puts more pressure on resources - land resources, most obviously - and pressure on resources is one of the drivers of conflict. And that's why we highlight in the report 14 of the 20 countries are not just conflict states. They're also in the top quartile of climate-vulnerable states. And fully two-thirds, 67%, of conflicts are in climate-vulnerable countries.

SIMON: Yeah. What kind of aid is genuinely helpful and what kind isn't?

MILIBAND: Well, responding after the event is a palliative, but it's too late. At the moment, the poorer the country, the more climate vulnerable, the less aid it gets for adaptation to climate change. And that makes no sense at all. We're saying not just that 50% of the resources of climate finance should go to adaptation, not just mitigation, in poor countries. We're also saying that the most fragile countries, the unstable places - they need to get their fair share.

And in those countries, we can't rely on traditional delivery mechanisms to get help to the poorest people. It's in the fragile states where the governments don't work, and you've got to have a different kind of pact between organizations like the World Bank, which provides most of the finance, and civil society, which has the ability to reach people.

Well, in too many places, governments can't provide it, and they're either a combatant in the - in an armed conflict; they're incapacitated in various ways; or they're not present. And that's why we're saying that instead of it being exceptional for the World Bank to work through civil society, it should become much more of the norm.

SIMON: Where are the people who are hardest to reach and who need help the most?

MILIBAND: Within conflict zones, it's very hard for government to reach. And in the case of Sudan, the government backed by Egypt are in conflict with rebels backed by the United Arab Emirates. It takes non-governmental organizations that are neutral between parties to be able to reach.

Second example - most of the clients of the International Rescue Committee are women and girls, and they face double and triple trouble - not just the poverty and the displacement, but also the violence that they suffer. Yet only 1% of total humanitarian funding goes to women-led organizations. That's something that the non-governmental sector can help put right.

SIMON: I have to ask - are you concerned that the world sometimes can't seem to focus on more than one crisis at a time?

MILIBAND: Yes, I am. I mean, obviously, we are following the crisis in Israel and Gaza very, very closely. We're trying to make a difference for civilians there, putting an equal value on the life of all civilians. That's a core part of our mission. But we can't turn our eyes away from where else needs help as well.

SIMON: What can individual citizens do who feel their hearts absolutely wrenched but wonder if there's something they could do with their own individual lives - to begin with, to inform themselves, but also to be a part of making things better?

MILIBAND: Yes. Well, I want to address that because - there are two parts of my answer. First of all, the greatest renewable fuel of all is hope. And by reading about what we're doing, they can renew their hope because they'll see our focus on solutions. There are solutions to these problems.

But the second thing, for an American audience - it's a great privilege for me as the CEO of the International Rescue Committee - I can say not just help us tackle problems far away. I can also say, go and help the refugees who are arriving in America. They need a buddy. They need support. They need the chance of applying for a job.

The Biden administration has increased the number of refugees being allowed to come into the U.S. It's going to be around 60,000 this year. Those people know the price of oppression, and they want to make the most of their chance to live in a free society. And they need some help. And there's no greater help alongside a resettlement organization like the International Rescue Committee than American citizens saying, this is the way to make your way in America.

SIMON: David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee. Thanks so much for being with us.

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

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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.
Lennon Sherburne