World in Crisis: Can Global Aid Quell the Humanitarian Storm?

Impacted by myriad factors such as regional conflicts, climatic calamities, economic upheavals, and food crises, humanitarian dilemmas have increasingly emerged as prominent global quandaries, capturing the attention of the international relations research community. As we usher into 2024, the international humanitarian landscape shows no signs of amelioration, with the significance of international humanitarian aid assuming heightened prominence. The global humanitarian apparatus teeters on the brink of collapse.

The global humanitarian scenario confronts its gravest challenge since the cessation of World War II. On one front, the proliferation of armed conflicts has soared to unprecedented heights since 1945. The protracted Ukrainian crisis, the escalation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in October 2023 triggering regional security ramifications, persistent civil strife in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Sudan, the simmering tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and localized armed conflicts in northern Myanmar persist unabated. Confronted with the protraction and escalation of conflicts across diverse theaters, United Nations Secretary-General Guterres lamented during the general debate of the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly that “the global humanitarian system is on the brink of collapse.” The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees projects that 130 million individuals will face forcible displacement in 2024, with over 2.4 million refugees necessitating resettlement.

Conversely, global temperatures surge unabated, accompanied by a surge in climate-related disasters, intensifying food security crises, and lingering public health perils. 2023 marked the hottest year on record, with large-scale climate-induced disasters unfurling worldwide, including droughts in the Horn of Africa, cyclonic devastations in Malawi, Mozambique, and Madagascar, wildfires ravaging Canada, and more. As of November 15, 2023, 249 climate disasters wreaked havoc globally, affecting upwards of 44 million individuals and claiming over 18,000 lives. Concurrently, food crises and infectious disease outbreaks surge, disproportionately impacting low-income nations. By the close of 2023, 258 million people across 58 nations grappled with acute food shortages. Elevated temperatures, compounded by air and water pollution, amplify the transmissibility of diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and Zika virus, exacerbating global health exigencies. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that due to overwhelmed medical infrastructures and acute vaccine scarcities, over one billion individuals worldwide face the specter of cholera epidemics, with approximately 166 million individuals requiring urgent medical intervention.

In sum, crises spanning developmental, security, and climate spheres spill over, rendering the global humanitarian predicament increasingly intricate. Influenced by regional conflicts and ideological schisms among nations, reliance solely on unifocal remedies proves inadequate in addressing the current labyrinthine and interwoven humanitarian crises. Over the past two decades, fragile and conflict-ravaged nations have steadily assumed the focal point of international humanitarian endeavors. From a security prism, the lion’s share of humanitarian exigencies presently emanates from conflict zones, where developmental strides risk reversal sans immediate conflict resolution and prevention measures. From a developmental standpoint, the humanitarian framework exhibits pronounced deficiencies in addressing protracted crises. Among the 26 humanitarian response blueprints promulgated by the United Nations in 2024, 17 nations have remained subjects of appeals for over a decade consecutively. The persistent surge in aid requisites underscores the non-constructive nature of humanitarian aid in these nations, failing to catalyze developmental progress. From a climatological perspective, natural calamities exert profound ramifications on national energy, food, and water security, fostering social unrest, and catalyzing humanitarian crises.

International humanitarian aid grapples with myriad impediments. As focus on humanitarian issues intensifies, the magnitude of international humanitarian assistance burgeons. Statistics from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reveal that humanitarian aid extended by members of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) is poised to reach US$23.73 billion in 2022, marking a 31% surge from 2019. DAC member states’ in-donor expenditures on refugee assistance to recipient countries are slated to escalate from US$12.88 billion in 2021 to US$31.76 billion in 2022, constituting 10% of the total official development assistance (ODA) in 2022, a figure surpassing the zenith of domestic refugee resettlement costs ($16 billion) amid the European refugee influx in 2016. The Global Refugee Forum convened in December 2023 yielded over 1,600 assistance commitments, with participants pledging in excess of US$2.2 billion in financial support.

Notwithstanding, the upsurge in fundraising endeavors fails to keep pace with the burgeoning humanitarian requisites, widening the chasm of funding inadequacies. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that 299 million individuals will necessitate humanitarian aid in 2024, with a funding target of US$46.4 billion to aid 181 million individuals across 72 nations. As of November 24, 2023, appeals for humanitarian assistance funds from the United Nations amounted to US$19.9 billion, representing a mere 42.8% of the requisite funds. Funding shortfalls compel aid agencies to curtail expenditure on humanitarian operations. In Syria, the World Food Program’s food assistance has been slashed by half, with recipients dwindling from 5.5 million in June 2023 to 3.3 million in November. For every 1% reduction in food aid to Syria, an additional 400,000 individuals face hunger.

Moreover, concerns loom over the efficiency of fund utilization. Presently, a lion’s share of humanitarian aid funds continues to accrue to United Nations agencies, impeding the process of aid localization. Records from the OCHA Humanitarian Fund Financial Expenditure Verification Office database indicate that in 2023, the top 17 major beneficiaries of humanitarian assistance funds comprised primarily United Nations agencies, international organizations, and donor agencies. Evidently, while the international community espouses the significance of localized aid, decision-making prerogatives and funding allocations remain predominantly ensconced within United Nations agencies, notably the World Food Program, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the United Nations Children’s Fund, with no discernible surge in available aid funds for recipient nations.

In addition, humanitarian aid has fallen into a crisis of confidence, and restrictions on aid access have continued unabated. As an intergovernmental organization, the neutrality and impartiality of United Nations agencies are easily questioned, and they cannot gain the full trust of local governments, opposition parties, religious forces and other relevant parties in conflict areas, thus restricting the accuracy of assistance provided by United Nations agencies in the region. involvement and practical action. In order to improve aid efficiency and reduce risks for humanitarian workers, regional powers and United Nations agencies are trying to leverage their humanitarian diplomacy to negotiate on humanitarian aid access. In November 2023, the United Nations, Saudi Arabia, and the African Union countries jointly pushed all parties to the Sudan conflict to sign a statement of commitment to ensure that the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) resolutely protect civilians and set restrictions on aid supplies. However, if diplomatic measures fail to create synergy, they will create constraints and escalate the issue of humanitarian aid access. In October 2023, due to serious differences among the 15 members of the United Nations Security Council over the wording of the text proposed by the United States and Russia, the draft resolution on the “humanitarian ceasefire” in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was delayed for ten days, seriously hampering the process of humanitarian action. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East reported that a total of 103 staff members of the agency were killed from October 7 to November 15, 2023, a record high.
China has become an important force in international humanitarian aid

Since the new era, China has gradually become an important force in international humanitarian assistance, and has closely integrated humanitarian assistance with development assistance, forming a “two-wheel drive” of development and humanitarianism, and a “Chinese advantage” in which security and humanitarianism “go hand in hand”. China always respects the local needs of recipient countries and provides timely and efficient humanitarian assistance to help countries in need solve their urgent needs. At the same time, China adheres to dialogue and consultation, actively plays the role of mediator on hot-spot issues, and is committed to reducing humanitarian crises caused by unnatural factors.

China’s humanitarian assistance is rich in forms and comprehensive in scope, including material assistance, cash assistance, capacity building, post-disaster recovery and reconstruction, etc., and covers multiple fields of emergency response to natural disasters, public health crises, food supply, immigration and refugee resettlement. Data from the China International Development Cooperation Agency shows that between 2018 and 2022, China provided a total of 822 foreign emergency humanitarian aids, with the largest number in 2021, reaching 317; and the largest amount in 2022, reaching 3.8 billion yuan. As its comprehensive strength continues to improve, the scope of China’s humanitarian assistance has gradually expanded, focusing on developing countries, low-income countries and countries with higher humanitarian risks, covering Asia, Africa, Latin America, the South Pacific and Europe.

While China is expanding the scale of humanitarian assistance, it is also constantly broadening financing channels and steadily advancing international cooperation. In 2022, the “Global Development and South-South Cooperation Fund” will be integrated, upgraded and increased to US$4 billion to support international organizations, officials and diverse social entities to jointly participate in humanitarian assistance operations. In 2023, the China International Development Cooperation Agency mobilized US$12 billion in special funds from domestic and foreign financial institutions for the first time, specifically for the implementation of global development initiatives, focusing on poverty reduction, climate change, green development and other development areas closely related to humanitarian needs. In addition, China has been providing voluntary and non-directed contributions to the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) since 2007. The China-United Nations Peace and Development Fund and the China-UN Food and Agriculture Organization South-South Cooperation Trust Fund also continue to support international humanitarian assistance work.

The Chinese rescue team continues to expand in scale and improve its professionalism. It actively implements the concept of a community with a shared future for mankind and promotes the international humanitarian spirit with practical actions. China now has two UN-certified international heavy rescue teams and five WHO-certified international emergency medical teams. For more than ten years, China has successfully carried out emergency rescue operations in Turkey, Mozambique, Pakistan, Iran, Nepal, Haiti and many other countries. The “Peace Ark” hospital ship and the “Peace Train” medical team, with the military as the main body, provide humanitarian medical services in the Philippines, Laos, Fiji, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Gabon and other countries. After the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria in February 2023, the Chinese rescue team arrived at the disaster area as soon as possible and carried out search and rescue missions in Hatay Province, the worst-hit province. In this international rescue, the Chinese people also played an important role. 17 social rescue teams with a total of 441 people rushed to the disaster area to carry out rescue operations and rescued 58 survivors.

China optimizes and updates aid methods in line with international needs, actively participates in international humanitarian supply chain cooperation, and ensures the construction of an international humanitarian material reserve system. The total scale of Chinese-made products purchased by United Nations agencies in 2022 will be nearly US$10 billion, accounting for 1/3 of the total global procurement. In 2021, the global humanitarian emergency warehouse and hub will be opened in Guangzhou, becoming the warehouse closest to the procurement end of the United Nations. Since then, China’s South Asian National Emergency Supplies Reserve and China-Pacific Island Countries Emergency Supplies Reserve have been officially opened in Chengdu and Guangzhou.

As a responsible major country with international influence, innovative leadership, and moral inspiration, China will further integrate aid resources, coordinate multiple participants, inject stability into responding to global humanitarian challenges, and demonstrate its commitment to resolving humanitarian crises and promoting international humanitarian cooperation. Big countries should take on their responsibilities and make greater contributions.

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