Level 3 Emergencies (And How We're Helping)

What's a "Level-three" humanitarian emergency and where are they happening now?

The global humanitarian response system classifies the most severe, large-scale humanitarian crises as level-three or "L3" emergencies. The urgency, scale and complexity of these crises are objectively overwhelming and beyond the capacity of local responders and governments to address. The extreme levels of need in these cases often arise due to violent conflict or famine conditions (or both) which cause large scale human displacement, ultimately effecting the surrounding countries and regions. At present, the three active system-wide L3 emergencies as declared by the IASC and supported by UNOCHA are in Syria, Yemen and Democratic Republic of the Congo

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While there are obviously dozens of other acute humanitarian emergencies around the globe which also demand our attention; these three crises are particularly large in scale and have been officially recognized as some of the most challenging. The focus of this blog is to briefly summarize the level of need in each country and explain how our nonprofit field partners are responding to each crisis.

  photo:  Sean Sheridan  for Mercy Corps, Azraq refugee camp for Syrians, Jordan. Yasmin, 21, a facilitator at Makani Center (a youth safe place) escaped Syria after her family's home in Daraa was bombed. She is pictured here with refugee children who attend the center in order to have a safe place to play and retain a valuable sense of routine.

photo: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps, Azraq refugee camp for Syrians, Jordan. Yasmin, 21, a facilitator at Makani Center (a youth safe place) escaped Syria after her family's home in Daraa was bombed. She is pictured here with refugee children who attend the center in order to have a safe place to play and retain a valuable sense of routine.

Syria: the world's largest displacement crisis

The civil war conflict in Syria is entering its seventh year; and the humanitarian situation there has been elevated to L3 status for over 5 years. Life-threatening military and rebel hostilities continue to be the primary threat and cause of needs there. 13.1 million people in Syria are currently in need of humanitarian assistance and 5.6 million are experiencing acute needs at the most severe levels. To date, the fighting has killed an estimated 400,000 Syrians and nearly 3 million civilians remain in hard-to-reach and besieged areas, unable to move to seek basic necessities and security.

6.1 million Syrians are internally displaced and there are 5.3 million Syrian refugees living in immediately surrounding countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. Large-scale destruction of infrastructure and massive population movements have brought nearly 70% of Syria's population to extreme poverty standards, lacking livelihoods and essential basic services. 6.5 million are facing acute food insecurity with another 4 million at risk of becoming food insecure. Over half of Syria's health facilities have been damaged or destroyed and hundreds of attacks on health workers and medical facilities continue each year, further disrupting medical services.

syria Responses we help support :

  • Mercy Corps has been working in Syria since 2008. Last year alone, Mercy Corps delivered food assistance to around 500,000 Syrians, distributed more than 150,000 emergency kits, and provided safe spaces and psychosocial support to about 10,000 young people throughout Syria. They also connected more than 280,000 Syrians to clean water. In recent months they've provided 42,000 people in Eastern Ghouta with winter clothing and blankets, child protection services, food and other supplies. To date, they have distributed more than 150 million pounds of flour to bakeries in Syria so families in need can afford to buy bread.
  • Oxfam is focusing on rehabilitating water infrastructure, including repairing wells, trucking in water, and providing an alternative power source for operating water pumping stations during frequent power outages. To date, they've provided clean water to more than 1.5 million Syrians. They're also working on supporting public health through solid waste management, installing latrines and water tanks, and distributing hygiene kits, blankets and floor mats. Since the beginning of the conflict, they've continued to campaign and advocate for an end to the fighting and for a sustainable, inclusive political solution.

  • Doctors without Borders (MSF) directly operates 5 health facilities and 3 mobile clinics in northern Syria and participates as a partner in five other additional facilities. They're also supporting the essential work of Syrian medical staff at about 50 hospitals and clinics across the country. Developed with Syrian medical networks and run from neighboring countries, this support program provides technical advice and distance training to Syrian doctors and nurses, donates medicines and medical supplies, and provides financial support to keep the facilities running. MSF continues to carry out vaccination campaigns in response to outbreaks and as part of pediatric care to protect children from common childhood diseases.

  photo:  Florian Seriex  for MSF, Yemen. Kawkab Al Sarafi works as emergency room nurse at the Al Koweit university hospital. Like thousands of other medical staff and health workers, she has worked without pay during the crisis.

photo: Florian Seriex for MSF, Yemen. Kawkab Al Sarafi works as emergency room nurse at the Al Koweit university hospital. Like thousands of other medical staff and health workers, she has worked without pay during the crisis.

yemen: the world's largest humanitarian crisis

Nearly three years since conflict escalations in Yemen, an estimated 22.2 million Yemenis (76% of the population) are in need of some kind of humanitarian or protection assistance. 11.3 million are experiencing acute, life-threatening needs. 17.8 million are food insecure, 16 million lack safe water and sanitation, and 16.4 million people lack access to adequate medical care. Nearly half of health facilities are non-functional and over 900,000 cholera cases were reported during 2017 outbreaks. 1.8 million Yemeni children and 1.1 million pregnant or lactating mothers are acutely malnourished, including 400,000 children under the age of five with severe acute malnutrition. Over 2 million Yemenis are internally displaced and 200,000 have fled to neighboring countries. Annual WHO estimates for child mortality in Yemen exceed 48,000 child deaths (under the age of five) and there are over 3,000 pregnancy-related maternal deaths in Yemen each year.

Yemen responses we help support:

  • Mercy Corps has been working in Yemen since 2010. Last year they reached more than 2.2 million Yemenis with some sort of humanitarian assistance. They've provided food assistance to nearly 400,000 people and supplied safe drinking water for more than 30,000 people each day in partnership with local water suppliers. They've rehabilitated water and sanitation facilities in schools and facilitated solid waste disposal services benefitting more than 630,000 people. In the past four years, Mercy Corps screened over 17,500 children for acute malnutrition and supported treatment of nearly 5,000 cases of severe acute malnutrition.
  • Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is running extensive programs to alleviate suffering for Yemenis. They treat the war-wounded and other victims of the conflict, and have responded to the unprecedented cholera outbreak and recent diphtheria outbreaks. MSF works in 13 hospitals and health centers in Yemen and helps support more than 20 hospitals and health centers with a team of more than 1,600 staff. Since early 2015 these teams have performed more than 37,000 surgeries and admitted over 550,000 patients to emergency rooms. In a 6-month period during 2017, they admitted and treated over 100,000 cholera patients.

  • Oxfam has reached 1.5 million Yemenis (since July 2015) with water and sanitation services, cash assistance and food vouchers. On the policy side, they've continued to lobby both for ceasefire and for the lifting of Saudi-led coalition blockades of Yemen's ports; as 90% of the food required to feed millions of starving Yemenis must be imported.

  photo: Corinna Robbins for Mercy Corps, Goma, DRC. Furaha Faida, pictured here with three of her four children, fled her hometown with her children after soldiers looted their home and subjected her to violent sexual assault.

photo: Corinna Robbins for Mercy Corps, Goma, DRC. Furaha Faida, pictured here with three of her four children, fled her hometown with her children after soldiers looted their home and subjected her to violent sexual assault.

DRC: Africa's largest displacement crisis

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is currently gripped by national political gridlock and plagued by localized armed conflicts. In the central region of Kasai, the conflict between government forces and the Kamwina Nsapo militia escalated dramatically in 2017 and has caused one of the world's most complex and long-standing humanitarian crises to become even worse for the already vulnerable civilian population of DRC. Decades of armed conflict have caused over 4.3 million to become internally displaced and there are over 600,000 DRC refugees in sub-Saharan Africa. Over 13 million people are in need of some sort of humanitarian assistance, including 7.8 million children. 7.7 million people are food insecure, including over 2 million children suffering from acute malnutrition. DRC is also experiencing deadly cholera, measles and malaria outbreaks. Violence and insecurity have impeded access to basic education for 3.4 million children. Annual WHO estimates for child mortality in DRC exceed 300,000 child deaths (under the age of five) and there are over 22,000 pregnancy-related maternal deaths in DRC per year.

DRC Responses we help support: 

  • Mercy Corps reached over 900,000 people in DRC in 2017. They are in the midst of providing 1.5 million people in DRC with clean water and have already provided hygiene education to more than 700,000 to help reduce and protect against disease outbreaks. They were the first organization in DRC to use electronic vouchers for food and other essential supplies and have connected nearly 350,000 people to economy-boosting cash since 2013.
  • Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is carrying out a wide cholera response to cover the most affected areas of the country. During a single month (September 2017), their teams treated over 17,000 cholera patients at nearly 30 MSF established cholera treatment units and centers. They continue to treat thousands of other patients each month suffering from malaria, respiratory infections and diarrhea. They've also established water and sanitation projects at hospitals, including construction of latrines and showers, and soap distribution.

  • Oxfam is helping more than 400,000 people in DRC, providing them with clean water, sanitation, cash transfers and seeds for crops. In collaboration with the UN World Food Program they are currently giving food to around 100,000 people. The have also brought in drilling equipment for new boreholes (wells) and provided hand pumps for piped water.

Of course, each crisis summarized here is continually evolving, as are the responses of our nonprofit field partners and other system-wide humanitarian responders. While the L3 status of each of these currently active emergencies is scheduled either to expire or be renewed at the end of this month, we hope this snapshot provides unique insight and understanding as to the sheer scale of crises with L3 status; as well as some inspiration to help financially support the efforts of qualified responders. 

Header Photo Credit: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps, taken at Makani Center, a Mercy Corps youth safe place in Azraq Refugee camp for Syrians, Jordan. 

Sources: UNOCHA, IASC, UNICEF, UNHCR, WHOMercy CorpsOxfamMSF

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