Somalia and Ethiopia, both Horn of Africa nations ravaged by drought and conflict, will be the countries of highest concern in 2023, according to an annual Watchlist issued by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) aid group on Wednesday.
The report lists 20 countries, 11 of them in Africa, that it says are at greatest risk of new or worsening crises next year and are home to 80% of all people facing severe food insecurity – despite accounting for just 13% of the global population.
Top of the list for the first time is Somalia, where the combined effects of a two-year drought, an Islamist insurgency and rising global food prices have caused catastrophic food shortages that are killing children now and are set to worsen.
The Al Shabaab militant group impedes humanitarian access, and an escalation of fighting between it and government forces in late 2022 suggests conflict may continue to intensify in 2023, the IRC said.
David Miliband, head of the IRC, said millions of Somalis were hungry and rich countries should not wait until an official declaration of famine to plug a $1 billion funding gap in the United Nations’ appeal for Somalia.
“The underfunding of the appeal is an obvious demonstration that the world thinks it’s not an urgent moment. That’s a mistake,” Miliband told Reuters in an interview ahead of the release of the Watchlist.
Speaking generally, Miliband said many rich countries were too focused on themselves and this was not right either morally or strategically.
“The insularity, the inward-lookingness of too many of the wealthiest parts of the world is leaving too many of the poorest parts of the world having to fend for themselves in a way that they’re unable to do,” he said.
Miliband said the war in Ukraine was exacerbating the problem because rich countries were focused on that, but he singled out the United States for praise, noting that it was providing 90% of aid for Somalia.
“In the U.S., Ukraine is not being used as an excuse to step back from tackling global issues. It’s being used by the administration as a reason to get involved in East Africa.”
Somalia has been hard-hit by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine because it is dangerously reliant on imported food, with 90% of its wheat supplies coming from Russia and Ukraine.
In Ethiopia, where an estimated 20 million people do not have enough to eat, a ceasefire signed in November between the federal government and forces from the Tigray region after two years of war has raised hopes of improved humanitarian access.
“There has been some aid flowing through,” said Miliband. “But we’ve got an enormous amount of ground to make up.”
The other countries ranked in the top 10 on the IRC’s 2023 Watchlist are Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, Haiti and Ukraine.