The Global Humanitarian Overview 2022: Climate, Gender, and Humanitarian Response

On December 2, 2021, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) cohosted the Washington, D.C., launch of the Global Humanitarian Overview (GHO) 2022. This year’s GHO demonstrates how armed conflict, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the growing climate crisis are derailing decades of hard-won gains in education, food security, gender equality, and healthcare in humanitarian contexts. The event highlighted urgent priorities and included a call for key international partners to make more sustained contributions to humanitarian operations.

Q1: What does the GHO 2022 tell us about the current state of humanitarian needs and action and future trends?

A1: The GHO estimates 274 million individuals will need humanitarian assistance and protection in 2022, a significant increase from 235 million people last year, which was already the highest figure in decades. This is a result of the massive impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which increased the number of individuals acutely affected by food insecurity to 811 million and pushed an additional 20 million into extreme poverty in 2021. The pandemic has severely impacted health systems around the world, particularly in low-income countries, in which almost half of all deaths are caused by communicable diseases and maternal, perinatal, and nutritional conditions.

In addition to the Covid-19 pandemic, the climate crisis continues to generate human suffering and humanitarian need. Climate change is considered a root cause of famine, which is a “real and terrifying possibility” in 43 countries. The World Bank’s Groundswell report predicts the climate crisis could force more than 216 million people across six regions to move within their countries by 2050, leading to the emergence of “hotspots of internal climate migration” as early as 2030.

The impacts of climate change—including drought, floods, extreme weather, increased incidence of disease, and growing food and water insecurity—most acutely impact low-income countries, even though they account for just 0.5 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. An estimated 95 percent of Afghans are without sufficient food, as a drought exacerbates the ongoing humanitarian crisis. In Somalia, severe shortages of food, water, and pasture have affected 2.3 million individuals and led to the displacement of nearly 100,000 men, women, and children. More than 700,000 people in South Sudan are suffering from the worst floods the country has seen in over 60 years. In recognition of the impacts of climate change on humanitarian crises, USAID administrator Samantha Power announced at the GHO launch that USAID will become a signatory to the Climate and Environment Charter for Humanitarian Organizations, which intends to “galvanize and steer collective action in response to the dramatic impacts of the climate and environmental crises.”

Finally, armed conflicts have become more violent and protracted, and aid workers continue to be targeted with violence, hampering humanitarian access and operations. In 2020, 117 aid workers were killed, 108 of whom were working in their own countries. Conflict, human rights violations, and armed violence have led to the forced displacement of 82.4 million individuals leading up to 2020, including 48 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), 26.4 million refugees, 4.1 million asylum seekers, and 3.9 million Venezuelans displaced abroad.

Without immediate and sustained action, 2022 could be catastrophic for those living in humanitarian contexts. The United Nations and partner organizations aim to assist 183 million individuals across 63 countries in 2022, which will require $41 billion in donor funding. To reach this goal, the GHO emphasizes the need for greater collaboration with the private sector in humanitarian coordination systems, the increased use of flexible cash assistance, and the introduction of anticipatory and preparedness measures that incorporate a gender lens. Such actions aim to “strengthen community resilience to future shocks and place human rights and humanitarian action as an essential part of global climate-adaptation efforts.”

Q2: How are climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic aggravating the situation for women and girls in fragile and conflict-affected states?

A2: Women and girls in fragile and conflict-affected states experience unequal impacts of the climate crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic. In many humanitarian contexts, women and girls are already denied basic freedoms and rights, systematically excluded from decisionmaking mechanisms, and subjected to heightened insecurity and violence.

The GHO estimates at least 70 percent of women and girls in humanitarian contexts experience sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), compared to 35 percent in non-humanitarian contexts. Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a surge in conflict-related SGBV, now referred to as a “shadow pandemic.” Numerous academic studies have also established a link between the climate crisis and SGBV. Honduras, for example, reported a 60 to 70 percent increase in reported cases of SGBV in the aftermath of Hurricanes Eta and Iota. Holding perpetrators of SGBV accountable has become increasingly difficult, with the pandemic slowing down the pace of already limited judicial proceedings. The pandemic has also impacted the ability of health systems to adequately address the needs of survivors.

Child marriage is on the rise in fragile and conflict-affected states, largely attributed to the impacts of a changing climate. Afghanistan, for instance, is reportedly experiencing increased rates of child marriage because of a severe drought that is devastating crops and straining the water supply. Child marriage is often a family’s coping mechanism in the face of instability. As climate disasters become more extreme and frequent and more families struggle to afford to feed their young daughters and send them to school, child marriage will continue to persist. The United Nations estimates 10 million additional child marriages may occur before the decade ends.

The pandemic and climate challenges impact girls’ access to education. The Malala Fund estimates 20 million secondary school-aged girls could be out of school once the pandemic has subsided. As extreme weather becomes more frequent and intense in low-income countries, girls are more likely to drop out or skip school. In Malawi, girls already make up a small proportion of youth attending schools, and many leave school after infrastructure is damaged to help recover agricultural losses. According to UN Women, more women will be forced to join the informal economy and pushed into extreme poverty than men, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and central and southern Asia.

Q3: How does ensuring women’s meaningful representation in decisionmaking mechanisms (i.e., humanitarian responses, peace processes, and politics) help combat the impacts of the climate crisis, armed conflict, and the Covid-19 pandemic?

A3: Countries like Afghanistan, Haiti, Mozambique, and Myanmar are suffering from humanitarian crises, the climate crisis, and Covid-19 as they grapple with gender inequality in state leadership. Despite this inequality, women, girls, and other gender-sexual minorities (GSM) are often first responders to crises. Their role in crisis situations provides them with untapped knowledge, various perspectives, and sustainable solutions that can achieve lasting peace, but only through an increase in their leadership.

At the launch of the GHO 2022, the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund, Natalia Kanem, referred to these crises as a gendered threat. Women, girls, and GSMs are disproportionately impacted by humanitarian and development crises like climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic. For example, climate change carries substantial burdens for women and GSMs because it directly impacts the natural resources that they are responsible for in their community. When these resources are damaged, women, girls, and GSMs are put at a greater risk for poverty and violence compared to men, especially when a lack of resources leads to conflict. In conflict settings, women and girls experience heightened SGBV, while GSMs—such as nonbinary individuals, bisexual men, and transgender women—are dually subjected to intensified SGBV based on their sexual and gender identity. This unequal impact demonstrates how crises are detrimentally gendered. Yet humanitarian responses, peace negotiations, and decisionmaking processes often systemically exclude women, girls, and GSMs despite clear benefits to their meaningful inclusion. To effectively fight urgent and cross-cutting challenges, they must be meaningfully involved at every stage of decisionmaking processes, particularly in humanitarian responses.

Prioritizing women's leadership is part of a gendered strategy aiming to increase gender awareness, enhance monitoring and accountability, and help reinforce U.S. national security priorities of conflict prevention and reconciliation. This only happens through meaningful inclusion of intersectional identities (e.g., race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, ability) that can ensure marginalized voices that would not normally be heard in decisionmaking processes are present. Further, women’s leadership at the local level results in greater social and political outcomes, as seen in post-coup Myanmar.

In response to Myanmar’s February 2021 coup, women-led movements garnered substantial popular support for a sustainable peace process. Sixty percent of protesters were women according to one estimate, and they were responsible for powerful anti-junta actions in the country that led to a total economic shutdown. As men rapidly lost their jobs in Myanmar, women claimed an increase of responsibility in the workforce. They have sustained an informal economy in different regions of the country during the Covid-19 pandemic through mutual aid services such as free legal advice, healthcare, environmental conservation, and basic humanitarian aid. A lack of these services would place Myanmar in an even more fragile setting. This example of gender inclusion reveals a critical lesson about the importance of women’s leadership: it is indispensable in fragile contexts. However, women’s significant contributions do not translate in peace processes where they only have a sliver of representation.

Q4: The GHO 2022 indicates humanitarian needs are rising, yet several G20 countries have reduced or withdrawn their humanitarian funding. What is the overall impact of the decreased funding, and how can negative outcomes be mitigated by anticipatory action?

A4: As humanitarian needs rise, global humanitarian funding only covers an unprecedented 52 percent of the need. In 2020, there were several high-profile UN appeals for increased funding, but governments shifted their domestic priorities due to economic implications of the Covid-19 pandemic, causing international humanitarian assistance to flatline at $30.9 billion. The United Kingdom, among the world’s leading donors, temporarily cut its aid from 0.7 percent to 0.5 percent until at least 2024, and other G20 countries are falling short of meeting their aid targets. If the global decrease in funding persists, then the United Nations is unlikely to achieve its goal of assisting 183 million people.

In her remarks, USAID administrator Samantha Power acknowledged the acute need for humanitarian action. She recognized that without sufficient funding in fragile contexts, the burden of aid disproportionately falls onto humanitarian organizations, which create a plethora of social safety nets, such as shadow healthcare systems. Humanitarian settings require stronger political solutions and a shift in approach, with a particular emphasis on utilizing anticipatory action.

Anticipatory action is used by the United Nations and partner organizations to mitigate the most negative outcomes in emergency contexts. It relies on short-term disaster management interventions based on early warning signs of hazards, aiming to blunt the worst impacts of crises and to achieve more sustainable long-term gains. This approach ensures international aid softens the impact of humanitarian crises to reduce suffering and maximize the benefits of funding. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has aggregated data on anticipatory action to measure its effectiveness in responding to eventual crises. They reported that pre-crisis investments led to increased food security in Sudan and Mongolia. The value of $1 grew to $7 as climate change and conflict intensified, which mitigated the potential for famine. With the additional implementation of the climate charter, which USAID aims to advance, results could be even stronger.

Afghanistan’s second drought, Myanmar’s oxygen crisis, and Ethiopia’s famine could have benefited from similar anticipatory action. Breaking international donors’ reactive cycle is critical to the future of humanitarian assistance, as it forecasts disasters and blunts the worst impacts of crises.

Jacob Kurtzer is director and senior fellow with the Humanitarian Agenda at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Hareem F. Abdullah is a program coordinator with the CSIS Humanitarian Agenda. Nicolas Jude Larnerd is a research assistant with the CSIS Humanitarian Agenda.

Critical Questions is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

© 2022 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.

Jacob Kurtzer
Senior Associate (Non-Resident), Humanitarian Agenda

Hareem Fatima Abdullah

Program Coordinator, Humanitarian Agenda