The 2020 Early Warning Forecast: 7 Urgent Humanitarian Crises

  • John Rivera
  • Jan 2, 2020

BALTIMORE AND WASHINGTON—Lutheran World Relief and IMA World Health have released the 2020 Early Warning Forecast of regions they are monitoring for potential or worsening humanitarian crises over the coming year: Casualties of Conflict: 7 Urgent Humanitarian Crises.

Ambassador Daniel V. Speckhard, president & CEO, noted that “the humanitarian outlook for 2020 and beyond forecasts a situation that is both complex and insecure, even as global development gains bring millions out of extreme poverty.”

“The causes and conditions of extreme poverty are rarely limited to a single factor,” he said. “Rather, the world’s most vulnerable people live in a complex context, often in fragile or failing states, where political and social systems that might offer protection have broken down. And increasingly, the common underlying denominator is violent conflict.”

Working in these complex humanitarian contexts presents a number of challenges for international NGOs working to eliminate poverty and ease human suffering.

“We will need to employ new, imaginative and innovative approaches if we hope to make an impact,” Speckhard said. “We are going to have to build our capacity to work in conflict-ridden, hostile environments, because that’s where the extremely poor who most need assistance are going to be.

“With record numbers of refugees and the internally displaced fleeing from conflicts that are lasting longer, we will have to employ development approaches and longer-lasting solutions that include new partners, including the private sector,” he said. “And it will be vital to recognize the primacy of local partners who best know the social and political context of their communities.”

The countries on the 2020 Watch List include:

  • Yemen, one of the world’s poorest countries, is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis widely considered to be the world’s worst. The conflict — which has killed over 100,000 people and displaced over 4 million — is taking a terrible toll on civilians, who are living in communities without basic services, access to health care, scarce food sources and poor sanitation, in addition to the continual threat of violence.
  • In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the number of Ebola cases sharply declined over the fall and an end to the epidemic seemed to be within grasp. But in November, local militias stepped up attacks on civilians, and violent protests broke out against the UN presence, targeting both the UN peacekeeping operation and the international health teams treating Ebola patients. The Ebola response was briefly interrupted and as a result, the number of new cases began rising again.
  • The countries of Central America, especially El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, have faced long stretches of drought over the last three years. In addition, the global coffee sector, a key source of employment and livelihoods in the region, is experiencing the lowest prices it has seen in more than a dozen years. Economic pressures are among the factors contributing to northward migration.
  • A spike in deadly attacks by extremist militias has created a situation  of insecurity across the Sahelian countries of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger to a point where the head of the U.N.’s World Food Program declared that the region is embroiled in a “three-country crisis’ that is causing widespread displacement and hunger.
  • Northern Iraq continues its process of recovery following the Islamic State’s three-year occupation of Mosul and the devastation resulting from the liberation of the city in 2017. In addition, an ongoing series of protests in central and southern Iraq, including the recent attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, have resulted in hundreds of deaths and casualties.
  • Following five years of civil war and near-constant conflict after achieving its independence in 2011, hope is on the horizon for South Sudan. The country must now grapple with the cumulative effects of conflict, including mass displacement and a government that struggles to provide the most basic services to its citizens. More than 2 million South Sudanese are refugees, and nearly 1.5 million remain internally displaced.
  • In Venezuela, the ongoing political and economic crisis continues to debilitate this once-wealthy country that is flirting with the possibility of becoming a failed state. The crisis is prompting millions of Venezuelans to flee the country, seeking refuge in nearby countries, mostly in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. By mid-2019, the number of Venezuelan refugees reached the 4 million mark, about 13 percent of its population.

The full 2020 Early Warning Forecast can be viewed in its entirety at

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About Lutheran World Relief and IMA World Health: Lutheran World Relief and IMA World Health have joined forces to increase our impact on breaking the cycle of poverty and promoting healthier families and communities. The two international humanitarian nonprofits are integrating IMA World Health's global health expertise and Lutheran World Relief’s work in rural economies and emergency response, creating a unified organization that will help millions more enjoy a healthier, more prosperous tomorrow.

John Rivera, Jan 2, 2020 email