What Is a Humanitarian Crisis?
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- The causes for a crisis are always context-specific and each crisis is different.
- Humanitarian crises usually require a multi-sectoral response.
- Complex emergencies pose many challenges to humanitarian actors, including access to vulnerable populations, human rights abuses and the possible presence of armed actors.
A humanitarian crisis is an event or series of events which represents a critical threat to the health, safety, security or wellbeing of a community or other large group of people, usually over a wide area. Armed conflicts, epidemics, famine, natural disasters and other major emergencies may all involve or lead to a humanitarian crisis that extends beyond the mandate or capacity of any single agency.
Humanitarian crises can be grouped under the following headings:
- Natural Disasters (earthquakes, floods, storms and volcanic eruptions).
- Man-made Disasters (conflicts, plane and train crashes, fires and industrial accidents).
- Complex Emergencies (when the effects of a series of events or factors prevent a community from accessing their basic needs, such as water, food, shelter, security or health care).
Such “complex emergencies” are typically characterized by:
- extensive violence and loss of life;
- displacements of populations;
- widespread damage to societies and economies;
- the need for large-scale, multi-faceted humanitarian assistance ;
- the hindrance or prevention of humanitarian assistance by political and military constraints;
- significant security risks for humanitarian relief workers in some areas.
Find out more
Information website on complex emergencies and natural disasters, hosted by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) Useful country profiles for sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia with daily and weekly news updates.
Alertnet - Reuters service for aid agencies, including latest humanitarian news.