NGOs speak: Their most pressing humanitarian priorities for 2016

There’s one prediction for 2016 that most aid workers can make with confidence – that the new year will usher in rising humanitarian needs.

Besides displacement caused by long-term conflicts in places like Syria and South Sudan, there is also the threat of more violence in Central African Republic and hunger caused by El Nino, which is expected to bring more drought to already-parched southern regions in Africa and potential flooding in the east.

The United Nations projects that at least 87 million people in dozens of countries will require humanitarian aid next year, and is seeking a record $20.1 billion to meet their needs.

A Thomson Reuters Foundation poll asked 15 of the world’s leading aid agencies to name their top three humanitarian priorities for 2016. Not surprisingly, Syria topped the list of concerns. But what were the others?

Action Against Hunger

  1. Central African Republic
  2. Yemen
  3. Horn of Africa: “Central African Republic is a forgotten humanitarian crisis which is not making the front pages despite the violent conflict that has left over half the population in dire need of assistance. An alarming number of children are at risk of life-threatening malnutrition. As violence continues, access for aid workers is ever more restricted and food, water and medical supplies in short supply,” said Juliet Parker, director of operations for Action Against Hunger UK.


  1. Syria Refugee Crisis – The refugee crisis in Europe has lead us to largely forget that most of those affected by the crisis are still in Syria or in neighbouring countries.
  2. El Nino – It’s becoming increasingly clear that the impact of the El Nino phenomenon is potentially devastating in some parts of East and Southern Africa.
  3. South Sudan – Drought, poverty and internal conflict have produced a downward spiral over the last couple of years. “Climate, conflict and humanitarian crises continue to affect the lives of the poorest women and children in the world,” said Mike Noyes, ActionAid’s head of humanitarian response.


  1. Syria
  2. West Africa – The Ebola epidemic exposed problems in the worldwide emergency health response system and highlighted weaknesses in the healthcare systems of the three most affected countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
  3. Small Island Developing States/ Pacific Islands – Rising sea levels and more powerful storms are increasingly a cause for concern. 

“Health system strengthening in West Africa is one of our top priorities for 2016. We need to ensure the health systems in these countries are not only prepared for the next major health emergency, but are also better equipped to deal with everyday health crises,” said Garrett Ingoglia, vice president of emergency response.

Care International

  1. Middle East, particularly Syria and Yemen.
  2. El Nino – The El Nino weather phenomenon is shaping up to be higher in magnitude and broader in impact than the devastating El Nino of 1997-98 which led to widespread loss of life.
  3. South Sudan – the political situation continues to divide much of the population, leaving at least 8.2 million in need. “CARE continues to deepen its efforts (in the Middle East) to provide basic services to try to help people caught up in these conflicts, including housing, cash, water and sanitation. We also support government systems in neighboring countries hosting Syria refugees and partner with other INGOs to provide essential services to those most in need,” said Barbara Jackson, humanitarian director.

Catholic Relief Services

  1. El Nino / Ethiopia drought – Aid agencies are warning that the people in need of critical food assistance in Ethiopia could rise to 15 million if aid doesn’t come now.
  2. South Sudan
  3. Central African Republic: “We’re currently witnessing levels of food shortage that could turn into a full-blown humanitarian crisis not seen in Ethiopia since 1985,” said Jennifer Poidatz, vice president, humanitarian response department.


  1. Syria and Iraq – war and conflict
  2. Central African Republic
  3. Horn of Africa and South Sudan – threat of severe drought: “In this rapidly changing world, you have to continuously reinvent yourself in order to achieve maximum social impact with limited resources. For us that means creating opportunities for everyone where the need is greatest as a result of war and natural disaster,” said Cordaid CEO Simone Filippini.

Danish Refugee Council

  1. European refugee crisis (DRC has scaled up its programmes in Serbia and said it plans a similar response in Macedonia and Greece)
  2. Syria – 2016 will mark the fifth year anniversary of the Syrian war which has displaced some 11 million people.
  3. South Sudan – managing refugee camps in one of the world’s most overlooked humanitarian crises. “In Europe refugees are crossing the Mediterranean in a scale, we haven’t seen before. We never imagined in the Danish Refugee Council that we would be required to operate in countries within the EU. At the same time we believe that this is a political crisis, and it is, therefore, essential to push for the EU to find a political solution to this,” said Ann Mary Olsen, the Council’s international director.

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

“In addition to the crises widely covered in 2015, next year on my radar will be Burundi (and the Great Lakes area), Israel and the Occupied Territories and Afghanistan,” said Dominik Stillhart, director of operations at ICRC.

“Having worked in Afghanistan for 30 years, we see that the conflict is far from over and civilians continue to pay a heavy price: 2015 was one of the deadliest years since 2001. A deteriorating security situation forces people to leave their homes and seek refuge in neighbouring countries or try dangerous routes to Europe,” said Stillhart.

International Medical Corps (IMC)

  1. Conflicts in Syria and Yemen
  2. Food insecurity in the Horn of Africa
  3. Violence in Burundi: “Sadly, we expect the already dire humanitarian situation in both Syria and Yemen to only worsen, the drought in the Horn of Africa to push food insecurity to a level not seen in decades, and the violence and heightened rhetoric in Burundi could potentially spiral into human tragedy in 2016,” said Rabih Torbay, senior vice president of international operations for the IMC.

Mercy Corps

  1. Syria
  2. Yemen – humanitarian crisis stemming from conflict.
  3. Northeastern Nigeria: “Over four million Syrians are now registered refugees in other countries, over half of those are children. As 2015 draws to a close, protection and humanitarian aid in Syria have reached a record high, and in the absence of a viable peace, the situation is expected to deteriorate and require even more sustained humanitarian support in the coming year,” said Michael Bowers, vice president for humanitarian leadership and response at Mercy Corps.

Norwegian Refugee Council

  1. Yemen – displacement, lack of food, water, medicine, shelter due to insecurity and lack of access, funds and political will.
  2. Central African Republic – displacement, lack of food, water, medicine, shelter due to insecurity and lack of access, funds and political will.
  3. Sahel region – in 2016, some 23.5 million people – almost one in six – will not have enough to eat, of which at least six million will require emergency food assistance. 

“International relief agencies and underestimated local organisations are able to work with most of the needy in most of the not-so-difficult places. But we are still remarkably absent in hundreds of communities across war-torn Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and Central African Republic. Too few organisations are capable of expanding their presence in areas where armed opposition groups or designated terrorist organisations rule over millions of civilians,” said Jan Egeland, the Council’s secretary general.

Plan International

  1. Ethiopia – impact of el Nino on food prices and insecurity.
  2. Southern Africa – El Nino’s impact in the form of extreme weather events, crop failure and increases in food prices.
  3. Burundi refugee crisis: “Our experience in the 2011 Horn of Africa food crisis, particularly in Ethiopia, (showed) that children and pregnant women are doubly disadvantaged. Plan International will prioritise them through community-based food and nutrition assistance and school-based feeding programmes,” said Roger Yates, director of disasters and humanitarian response for the organisation.

Save the Children

  1. Ethiopia – Prospect of the worst drought conditions for 50 years.
  2. South Sudan – Violence, the world’s highest maternal mortality rate, and a quarter of a million children severely malnourished.
  3. Yemen – Almost half of the 21 million people who need humanitarian assistance are children. 

“In Ethiopia, the key concerns for Save the Children are to make sure that food is obtained and delivered to children and their families in the most affected areas to prevent malnutrition, to have rapid life saving therapeutic feeding for those children who do fall into severe malnutrition and to provide basic access to water in affected communities,” said John Graham, country director for Save the Children in Ethiopia.


  1. Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and South Sudan.
  2. Lake Chad area
  3. Yemen – high levels of insecurity and where programmes to treat neglected tropical diseases are becoming essential. This is an area that we anticipate remaining extremely difficult to operate in, entering into 2016.

“It is in the field of the neglected tropical diseases where we are most often in communities facing high levels of chronic insecurity, subject either to long-term conflict or frequent flashpoints,” said Dominic Haslam, director of policy and programme strategy for Sightsavers.

World Vision UK

  1. Syria
  2. Democratic Republic of Congo
  3. South Sudan: “While the Syria crisis sometimes hits the headlines, our work – and the challenges facing hundreds of thousands of refugee families – carries on every day. We’ll continue to provide a huge amount of practical support in Syria and its neighbouring countries, and now in Europe,” said Mark Bulpitt, World Vision UK’s head of humanitarian and resilience. – Reuters

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