David Miliband is the President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee and is a former Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom.
Today, more than 110 million people are displaced globally. The climate crisis is worsening already dire situations in conflict-affected communities–made worse by economic shocks arising from the Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine. These compounding crises are fueling record-breaking levels of humanitarian need.
In the remote environments that organizations like the International Rescue Committee (IRC) work in, there are many barriers to delivering aid. While these barriers are not new, they have taken on new potency.
Beyond demanding global reflection, these barriers demand action and groundbreaking solutions.
First, the international community often addresses crises with short-term, fragmented solutions in which outcomes and evidence do not play a big enough part. The process of breaking this cycle requires careful analysis of the problem, the available evidence, the context, client views, and other types of information to make a long-term change in the lives of those we serve. It requires a serious look at outcomes rather than outputs.
To help address this in our work, the IRC developed the Outcomes and Evidence Framework, an interactive set of tools that continues to provide practitioners with up to date data on the effectiveness of programs. In turn it helps in designing the most effective programs using the best available research and evidence.
Secondly, the economic cost of conflict has a devastating impact on the people we serve around the world. The humanitarian fallout of the war in Ukraine, for example, continues to take a heavy toll globally, as the echoes of the conflict are heard beyond its borders.
People living in low-income and food import-dependent countries–already impacted by the ongoing war, COVID-19 and climate change–are now suffering from the ripple effects of food supply chain disruptions, skyrocketing food prices and rising inflation. Somalia imports up to 90% of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine and, amid the global economic turmoil, is at risk of famine once again. The IRC’s Watchlist countries saw an average of 39.7% inflation in food prices–double the average of non-Watchlist countries. The setbacks in terms of hunger and poverty will be felt over the course of years.
Many of our clients are on the front lines of the climate crisis as well. As climate change increasingly affects the most vulnerable, it is exacerbating resource stress, intensifying social and gender inequalities, driving conflict over resources, and forcing displacement. Resources must be directed to programs that build climate resilience to prepare communities to confront the impacts of climate change through actions like early warning systems, anticipatory action, and more resilient food and agriculture systems. Funding and financing must address and center the needs of these climate-vulnerable communities, with at least 50% of the international commitment for climate financing devoted to adaptation.
A global response should both support those already suffering from the effects of climate change today and commit to lessen the future effects for all. Anticipating crises and acting in advance can prevent families from being forced to make difficult choices. But anticipatory action depends on cash being available and, today, it is not.
Finally, an international system that is more competitive and less coordinated has made it harder to resolve conflicts and crises. Civilians and aid workers caught up in conflict are more likely to be attacked, contrary to humanitarian law. In this ‘Age of Impunity,’ perpetrators are unlikely to be held accountable. In many countries where the IRC works, marginalized communities are more likely to be attacked and excluded, and migrants are less likely to receive welcome and support.
Data from the IRC’s 2022 Watchlist shows that wars are lasting longer on average and are spreading to new regions quicker than before. These conflicts often destroy the infrastructure and services that can save lives when crises strike. The safety and security of civilians and humanitarian aid workers is paramount to ensuring assistance can reach all people in need. When prices are driven up and combatants block supplies and target food storages, coping capacities for those most in need are depleted; the solution is always that perpetrators should be held to account.
The solution is to set out clear, time bound action plans to realize the increased ambitions on mitigation, adaptation, and finance, prioritizing communities living in fragile and conflict-affected states. The cost of not being able to do enough is evident in the regions where the IRC works.
The IRC and other humanitarian organizations do not lack ideas for which actions to take. That’s why the IRC created the Airbel Impact Lab to design, test, and scale life-saving interventions in communities affected by crises worldwide. From using technology to predict and respond to climate shocks, to delivering treatment out of reach for 80% of malnourished children, the IRC is driving and accelerating solutions to the world’s biggest challenges.
Innovative solutions must attune technology to real world contexts and the realities of our clients. Technological solutions have the potential to deliver context-dependent solutions that are high quality, and relevant to the conditions on the ground, taking into account local dynamics, stakeholders, and operating conditions.
But we also need global commitment to enable more solutions. Now more than ever, the power of private–public partnerships cannot be understated. Bold leadership and strong commitments are needed from across sectors to match the global scale of today’s humanitarian crises.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) helps people affected by humanitarian crises to survive, recover and rebuild their lives. We deliver lasting impact by providing health care, helping children learn, and empowering individuals and communities to become self-reliant, always with a focus on the unique needs of women and girls. Founded in 1933, we now work in over 50 crisis-affected countries as well as communities throughout Europe and the Americas.