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The IRC says Afghanistan is in dire need of humanitarian aid

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Afghanistan now tops the list of countries with the greatest humanitarian concerns. That's according to a new report from one of the most prominent international aid groups. Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The International Rescue Committee puts together its emergency watchlist for internal planning. But today it's making it public to show just how much the world needs to do to respond to humanitarian needs around the globe. IRC President David Miliband paints a grim picture, saying in the 20 countries on the list, 244 million people are in need of aid.

DAVID MILIBAND: That represents 90% of global humanitarian need, 80% of the world's refugees and asylum-seekers, 90% of deaths in conflict. So you can see the concentration of misery that the watchlist countries represent.

KELEMEN: Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Yemen topped the list, which also includes Syria, Somalia and Myanmar. Vicki Aken, who's based in Afghanistan for the International Rescue Committee, says drought and the COVID-19 pandemic are just the start of the problems there. International donor funds have been frozen following the Taliban takeover, and that makes it hard to rebuild from conflict.

VICKI AKEN: I visited the main hospital in Logar province, and all of their incubators for premature infants were destroyed. They are desperately trying to keep infants alive by covering them in blankets.

KELEMEN: She says 97% of Afghans now live in poverty. Yemen, once considered the world's worst humanitarian disaster, moved down to No. 3 on the watchlist this year, just behind Ethiopia, where a year-long civil war is leading to famine. Miliband calls it a global system failure. Governments in these countries are failing to help their citizens. Aid workers often can't get access, and the world isn't holding abusers to account. Diplomats are also failing, according to Miliband, a former British foreign secretary.

MILIBAND: Last year was the year for the lowest number of peace deals since the end of the Cold War, and 55 civil wars are burning around the world.

KELEMEN: The U.S. failed to secure a power-sharing arrangement in Afghanistan before pulling U.S. troops out. The Biden administration has ramped up diplomacy on Yemen and Ethiopia, but there are few signs of progress there.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BEST PESSIMIST'S "MY LONG GOODBYE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.