Editor’s Note: David Miliband (@Dmiliband), a former UK Foreign Secretary, is President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, a global humanitarian aid organization. Nazanin Ash (@NazaninSAsh) is the Vice President of Global Policy and Advocacy at the International Rescue Committee and formerly served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs during the Obama administration. The opinions expressed here are their own. Read more opinion at CNN.
In his first days in office, President Joe Biden has prioritized immediate actions in America and for Americans. This is what he promised. But he has also committed to reestablishing international US leadership, with “humility and confidence” as Secretary of State Antony Blinken put it, and started with executive orders on issues like refugees and the pandemic.
These measures lay the foundation for urgent action needed now more than ever in the world’s proliferating humanitarian crises, mired in the triple threat of untended conflict, unmitigated climate change and the scourge of Covid-19.
As IRC’s 2021 Watchlist reveals, this toxic mix is driving unprecedented humanitarian need and reversing decades of hard-won progress worldwide. As our report notes, the 20 countries in crisis on the list represent just 10% of the global population, but account for 85% of those in humanitarian need. They are also the countries driving the global displacement crisis, accounting for 84% of all refugees in 2019. The Covid-19 pandemic has increased global humanitarian needs by 40% over the last year alone – increasing the pressure on already fragile societies.
Against this backdrop, the world has been in retreat. Humanitarian aid levels declined in 2019 for the first time in a decade. According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, developing nations are struggling to host 85% of the world’s refugees, while wealthy nations like the US and European Union member states almost halved the number of refugee resettlement slots available to the most vulnerable.
And while wealthy nations have allocated over $11 trillion for domestic Covid-19 responses, the UNs’ Global Covid Humanitarian Response Plan – meant to coordinate and rally support for crisis – and conflict-affected countries – is currently less than 40% funded.
Covid-19 has shown that we live in a connected world. Analysis by the International Chamber of Commerce found that the global economy could lose as much as $9.2 trillion if vaccines are not equitably distributed to low-income countries, with wealthy nations bearing half that loss. Unmanaged instability, insecurity, migration and climate change have similar consequences for US interests.
Urgent and expansive humanitarian action from the new administration is therefore a necessity and not a luxury. America’s absence during the previous administration created a spiral of disengagement that has left the world leaderless at this crucial time. And while the US cannot resolve these challenges alone, US leadership can encourage others to share the burden.
Covid-19 takes priority because it has brought the world to its knees.
Of the nearly $4 trillion has allocated to combat the pandemic, just less than 0.2% has been allocated to support the international Covid-19 response, including $4 billion for the global vaccine effort. The ICC study indicates that the $27.2 billion needed to close the gap on global vaccine distribution could deliver a return “as high as 166 times the investment.”
So, too, will there be returns on addressing deepening malnutrition, poverty, health and education losses due to the pandemic. President Biden’s proposal of an extra $11 billion is a start, but it will take more.
The US can galvanize global partners by allocating $20 billion to the global response, in its new Covid-19 action package, and calling on wealthy nations to do their fair share.
The second order of business is restoring stability to the world’s worst crisis zones before they get worse. Humanitarian appeals for IRC’s Watchlist countries have been organized for an average of 11 consecutive years. Sustained improvement in these destabilizing displacement crises will deliver humanitarian and strategic benefit – but it will take aid, diplomacy, sustained engagement and coordination with donors, UN agencies and international financial institutions.
Dedicating 50% of humanitarian and development assistance to crisis-affected countries would reorder US priorities and tools to help stabilize these protracted crises. And it would deliver cost savings: The Institute for Economics and Peace estimates that for every $1 the US spends on conflict prevention, it saves $16 in response costs.