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Strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations - Report of the Secretary-General (A/76/74–E/2021/54) [EN/AR]

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General Assembly
Seventy-sixth session
Item 76 (a) of the preliminary list*
Strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance of the United Nations, including special economic assistance


The present report was prepared pursuant to General Assembly resolution 46/182, in which the Assembly requested the Secretary-General to report annually to the Assembly and the Economic and Social Council on the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance. The report is also submitted in response to Assembly resolution 75/127 and Council resolution 2019/14. The period covered by the report is from 1 January to 31 December 2020.

The report contains an outline of measures taken to strengthen humanitarian coordination and response, information on humanitarian trends, challenges and recommendations, including in response to escalating humanitarian suffering due to conflict, the climate crisis and the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

I. Introduction

Overview of key trends

  1. Humanitarian needs soared in 2020, propelled by conflict, climate change and the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, which combined to transform the humanitarian operating landscape, compounding risks and exacerbating inequalities and vulnerability. Disturbing trends unfolded, including the shadow epidemic of gender-based violence, increased protection challenges, rising displacement, escalating food insecurity and the resurgent threat of multiple famines.

  2. Protracted conflicts persisted, while conflicts emerged or escalated in Ethiopia,
    Mozambique and between Armenia and Azerbaijan. In addition, civilians were killed or maimed and driven from their homes, and civilian infrastructure, including health, schools and water facilities, was destroyed or damaged in disregard of international law. Access was obstructed. Humanitarian space and humanitarian principles were under pressure. Humanitarian and health-care workers, both national and international, were killed, kidnapped, attacked, detained and threatened with increased frequency.

  3. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed inequalities and expanded humanitarian needs. Those with overlapping vulnerabilities, including persons with disabilities, older persons, internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, migrants, youth and other marginalized people were hit hardest.

  4. Women and girls were disproportionately affected, particularly by gender-based violence, coupled with decreased access to education, health care, nutrition and livelihoods, putting millions of girls at increased risk of child marriage, child labour and other forms of exploitation. The pandemic caused the largest disruption of education in history. Some 7.6 million girls from pre-primary to secondary school were at risk of not returning to school.1

  5. The climate emergency continued to drive humanitarian suffering. Protracted conflicts and climate-related shocks have become increasingly intertwined. Eight of the ten countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change had an inter-agency humanitarian appeal.2 A total of 389 disaster events affected nearly 98 million people, caused 15,080 deaths, displaced millions and inflicted $173 billion in damage.3 In the past decade, climate-related events have caused 83 per cent of all disasters triggered by natural hazards.4 The spread of plant and animal pests and diseases – including the upsurge of desert locusts in the Greater Horn of Africa – underscored the potential impact of climate on ecosystems, with dire humanitarian consequences.

  6. The number of people facing acute food insecurity escalated, with 155 million people in 55 countries estimated to be classified as reaching Integrated Food Security Phase Classification phase 3 or worse. More than 30 million people were in Integrated Food Security Phase Classification phase 4 (Emergency) conditions – one step away from the worst-case scenario of phase 5 (Catastrophe/Famine). For people living in some parts of Burkina Faso, South Sudan and Yemen, that worst-case scenario was reached.5

  7. The frequency and diversity of infectious disease outbreaks has increased significantly over the past five years, and 94 per cent of countries with inter-agency humanitarian appeals recorded at least one disease outbreak. Many vaccine distribution and disease prevention programmes were interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing the risk of outbreaks of cholera, dengue, measles, polio, Ebola and other diseases.

  8. Displacement continued to rise. By mid-2020, there were 26.4 million refugees worldwide.6 By the end of 2019, the number of internally displaced persons had reached an all-time high, with 45.7 million people forcibly displaced by conflict and violence. Another 5.1 million people remained displaced owing to disasters. 7 In the first six months of 2020, there were 14.6 million new internal displacements, including 4.8 million triggered by conflict and violence and 9.8 million by natural disasters.8

  9. Local communities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were at the frontlines of response, delivering in hard-to-reach places. Women and women-led organizations undertook indispensable roles. Despite challenges, the international humanitarian system stayed and delivered a coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic, working in partnership with Governments and local organizations, and continued to adapt its responses. The Emergency Relief Coordinator convened Inter-Agency Standing Committee partners regularly and, two weeks after the declaration of a pandemic, released the Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19 as an unprecedented humanitarian system-wide response to meet needs in 63 countries.

  10. Despite donors generously contributing an unprecedented $19.11 billion in 2020, the humanitarian funding gap widened to a new high of 50 per cent as needs grew. With those funds, almost 100 million people were reached with assistance through 25 United Nations coordinated humanitarian response plans. By the end of the year, humanitarian partners had requested $35 billion in resources to assist 160 million of the 235 million people in need in 2021. 9

  11. As the international community takes stock of 2020 and the challenges ahead, we have to mobilize collective action to mitigate the short- and long-term impacts of COVID-19 while building forward, engaging humanitarian, development, disaster risk reduction, climate and peace actors and investing more in anticipatory and early action, preparedness, early warning and monitoring systems to prevent and mitigate the worst impacts of humanitarian crises. Recommitment to full respect for international norms – international humanitarian law, human rights law and refugee law – and the centrality of protection, and respect for humanitarian principles is urgent. Urgent action is also required to implement the Secretary-General’s calls for a global ceasefire and humanitarian pause and greater investment in prevention, as well as the global call for an end to violence against women, eradicate the scourge of famine, catalyse climate action, ensure women’s full participation in all humanitarian decision-making and reignite progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.