With the ongoing pandemic and the rise of the omicron variant, it's easy to forget that the world isn't battling other major crises right now.
But for The New Humanitarian, an independent nonprofit media outlet that covers conflict and disasters, these "other crises" are always top of mind.
In December, the outlet published its annual list of 10 global crises and trends that it will be watching in 2022. It's been compiling the list for the past five years to spotlight problems likely to drive humanitarian need in the months ahead.
To compile the rundown, The New Humanitarian reached out to analysts, aid workers and reporters from more than 60 countries. This year's list consists of:
- The pandemic's poverty and equality hangover
- Social media's hate problem
- Afghanistan, Haiti, Myanmar: Political upheaval, humanitarian challenges
- West vs. the rest: Roadblocks for those seeking asylum
- Mercenaries and their humanitarian costs
- The hidden health risks of climate change
- Ethiopia: Endless obstacles to aid
- Latin America: Turbulent politics meets COVID fallout
- All eyes on the city of Marib, the center of Yemen's conflict
NPR spoke to Josephine Schmidt, The New Humanitarian's Geneva-based executive editor who helped compile the list, about her worries — and hopes — for the year ahead. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How do you decide which crises make the cut?
It is difficult to compile these lists of crises because you don't want to get into a contest of misery and say, "Well, this crisis deserves to be one of the top 10 and that one doesn't." So we don't do a ranked list.
But what we did was put together a list of crises and topics that we feel attention must be paid to — either because of the sheer scale or because they are hidden or forgotten.
There are so many ongoing crises that get very little media attention and get far from enough financial assistance. We feel it is our duty to bring those crises to the attention of readers.
What was the most surprising thing on this year's list?
It was very eye-opening to realize how deep and long-felt the reverberations of the pandemic may be, especially for communities dealing with overlapping crises. We call it the pandemic's "hangover effects."
The financial and social impacts of the pandemic are not only making poverty and existing inequality worse, but they're also contributing to unprecedented levels of hunger. Just the sheer scale, depth and breadth of hunger in 2021 really surpassed what we would have imagined.
The pandemic seems to be affecting other crises on the list.
Pandemic lockdowns and supply chain and transport difficulties have also made it more difficult to provide aid in places experiencing conflict right now, including Ethiopia, Haiti and Yemen.
For so many people, when – or if – the pandemic ends, life won't suddenly become less complicated. The pandemic has created deeper need that's going to be difficult to dig out of.
Your list mentions that the pandemic has delivered a particularly devastating blow to Latin America.
More than 30% of COVID-19 deaths have been in Latin America, home to a bit more than 8% of the world's population.
Think of the lives capsized by those deaths alone: families losing wage earners, kids orphaned or forced to leave school to work. Jobs lost to the pandemic have pushed millions into poverty, and millions of others have fallen out of the middle class. Hunger is also rising faster than any other part of the world.
Anything that's taken you by surprise?
One thing that hit harder and faster than we expected was the difficulties with aid access in Ethiopia [which is in its second year of civil war].
In Ethiopia, the very public and sustained vitriol toward aid workers and agencies from the government and its opponents has been alarming. Aid workers have been called spies and terrorists. More than 20 aid workers have been killed. Aid groups have been kicked out.
And civilians pay the price. More than 9 million are hungry in northern Ethiopia alone, with hundreds of thousands edging toward famine, according to the U.N. And in the south and east of the country, the U.N. says that drought will leave another 6 million people in need of assistance this year.
Hunger has been on your list for several years. Have there been any improvements?
I do think there is a glimmer of hope. At the first U.N. Food Systems Summit in September, there were a number of commitments made by world leaders to build more sustainable, equitable and green food systems. If talk translates to action, then those commitments offer some hope for increasing food security globally and reducing hunger.
The New Humanitarian is known for original reporting on humanitarian crises, sometimes in conflict zones. It must be difficult in the best of times. How are you managing during the pandemic?
Due to the pandemic and increased danger in conflict zones, we have had to be very creative in the way we report. When our staff cannot get into places ourselves, we work with local journalists or local citizens via WhatsApp or other [virtual] means.
We really feel the best stories are told by people in and from the communities in which the stories are taking place. So even if we send in our own reporters, we make sure they are not only working with local translators and fixers but also local reporters.
What are you looking forward to in 2022?
I look forward to upending the idea that humanitarian news is only about what's broken, what's wrong and what's overwhelmingly hopeless.
For example ...
We've done stories on how women in South Sudan are leading peace-building efforts and how women's groups operating with little to no funding in Colombia are supporting victims of gender-based violence.
Many of the answers to these crises are found in the local communities that are experiencing these problems. We need to ask and listen to them.
How do you regroup after a long day of covering crises?
I take a long, unplugged walk to nowhere in particular. Or at least think about doing that.
Joanne Lu is a freelance journalist who covers global poverty and inequity. Her work has appeared in Humanosphere, The Guardian, Global Washington and War is Boring. Follow her on Twitter: @joannelu