The term polycrisis is increasingly being used to describe “how global crises are interconnected, entwining and worsening one another”. Tearfund’s partners, and the communities they work with, see first-hand what this looks like.
Many of us know what it feels like to be hit by several of life’s challenges in quick succession, or all at once. There are periods in life when it feels like we just keep getting knocked down, and getting back up again takes everything we’ve got.
For many of the world’s hardest places, the last few years have seen one crisis follow hard on the heels of another. These places find themselves at the convergence of crises like climate change, COVID-19, conflict, disease outbreaks and natural disasters. The interplay between these factors is complex, as is the development of solutions. As this New Humanitarian article puts it, “the nexus of climate, peace, and security needs strategies that address vulnerabilities, promote inclusion, and adapt to climate change with conflict sensitivity”.
Staff from Tearfund’s International Programs Team have been reflecting on what polycrisis means for some of the organisations we partner with, and the people they support.
When challenges come in waves, or all at once, the future can look uncertain – but working together, Tearfund’s partners and the people they work with can find space for hope, Marshall Currie reflects.
Polycrisis might be a recent word, but it describes an old reality for some of our partners in Africa who are used to seeing challenges come in waves, one after the other, or sometimes multiple challenges at the same time. Perhaps what’s different now though is that we seem to have entered an era in which there is little respite between these crises, where the times when conditions are favourable for communities to develop and thrive are getting further and further apart.
Tearfund’s partner Sudan Evangelical Mission (SEM) in South Sudan has been working with rural farming communities in Western Equatoria State for around 25 years. For the past eight years, the communities they support have been impacted by the conflict that has engulfed that young nation. In 2015 thousands of families in and around Mundri, where SEM operates, had to flee to safety, leaving behind their homes, land and livelihoods. A few years later fighting eased and families were able to return and begin the long task of rebuilding what they had lost, only to find themselves faced with an unpredictable climate where too much rain, at the wrong time, ruined newly planted crops and destroyed homes. At the same time, local and global economic forces beyond the community’s control drove up the price of food in the markets – food that they needed to buy to supplement what they hadn’t been able to grow. But crop losses mean less money, so the problem is deepened. One wave after the other.
In circumstances like this it’s not surprising that even good community development initiatives like SEM’s food security and livelihoods project struggle to ensure that people can meet their most basic needs. This is where we see our partners having to respond with practical support. In SEM’s case it involved providing financial support to families to enable them to rebuild destroyed homes and buy desperately needed food.
SEM’s longer term development work continues, and the farmers they are working with maintain hope that the new farming practices they are learning will make them more resilient to climate challenges. They are also appreciating the value of working in groups – that it’s harder alone, and they can do much more together – but they also know from hard experience that the future is not certain.
Marshall Currie is a Tearfund International Program Team Leader.
The word “Afghanistan” has been associated with a lot of challenges over the years. The country has been in conflict for a lot of its modern history, from the wars for independence from the British in the mid-1800s, to the Soviet invasion in the 1980s, to the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s. As one of Tearfund’s partners recently reflected, “they are the same cycles, but just with different covers.”
At the start of 2022, on the back of the pandemic and the onset of an interim government, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported 24.4 million of the country’s population of 41 million being in need of humanitarian assistance. One year later, that number rose to 28 million, and currently stands at 29.2 million, with six million on the brink of starvation. A three-year drought and an expansive locust outbreak in 2023 have no doubt contributed to growing these horrifying numbers.
On top of this, we continue to see the increased restrictions placed on women. Particularly this year, we’ve seen our partners work hard to adapt the way they navigate the systems. When the ban on Afghan women working in NGOs first occurred, partners stood by their staff, supporting their women colleagues who were now homebound. When health and education became the exempted sectors in which Afghan women could continue to work, partners aimed to re-focus programs where they could to align with these two significant humanitarian responses.
Although there have been obstacles that can’t be overcome, and the level of need of the Afghan people continues to increase, our partners persevere in faithfulness to the communities they work and live in. Our partners’ efforts are only possible through the trust they’ve built in the community, working alongside a resilient people who continue to fight for their families’ futures, as well as an assurance founded in the God who provides.
Hedda Ngan is one of Tearfund’s International Partnerships Managers.
Yemen was already among the world’s poorest countries before conflict broke out there more than seven years ago. Now climate shocks, the pandemic and a range of economic factors have made this hard place all the harder, writes Phil Lindsay.
Yemen has been called the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, with 60 per cent of the estimated 377,000 additional deaths that have occurred since 2015 caused by the indirect consequences of the conflict, such as lack of access to food, water and healthcare. Conflict and the resulting collapse of the economy and state systems have left nearly 22 million people in need of relief support, 13.4 million of those in acute need.
Yemen wasn’t always like this. A desert country, what is now known as Yemen was in ancient times the prosperous home of the Queen of Sheba and reputedly, the Three Wise Men who visited the infant Jesus.
From the 15th century until now Yemen has been subject to conflict between European empires or against them, and more recently the indirect battleground of power blocs, whether that’s the Cold War or currently between Arabian States. Currently a fragile truce exists within Yemen that will hopefully pave the way towards an extended peace deal.
It is hard to simplify meaningfully the background to such conflicts, and the consequences of conflict for the people of Yemen are equally complex. Food insecurity and scarcity is a primary driver of suffering, at the moment exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and resulting reduction in wheat imports. The struggle for sustainable livelihoods and wildly fluctuating food prices means that households have a daily struggle to meet their food needs. Some 64 per cent of local food vendors sell on credit to trusted community members. That provides food, but leads to debt and a spiralling economic hole for families.
After seven years of war in Yemen, millions of people are hungry, sick, destitute and acutely endangered. The war’s impact on social services, livelihoods and household purchasing power has been compounded by the unpredictable climate, the COVID-19 pandemic, the fuel crisis, currency devaluation, port restrictions, double taxation on goods imported into North Yemen and the Air and sea blockades tightened.
Safe water and healthcare are another two desperate needs, and the lack of these means that people are vulnerable to disease and illness. Much of this burden falls on women. As the project proposal for one of the projects supported by Tearfund states about the area in which it works: “Up to 81.7 per cent of people use unsafe drinking water sources, with the majority of them (89.9 per cent) getting their water from water sources located more than 500 metres from their homes. 77.4 per cent walk more than 30 minutes to fetch water. More than 90 per cent of people in the communities who were asked say that it is the job of women to collect water.”
Sanitation is also a challenge. In the same project area, more than 92 per cent of households have latrines that either drain into a local canal, or they use pit latrines that don’t have a floor slab.
In this context Tearfund Australia is supporting the work of Tearfund Germany in two projects: one working to improve livelihoods, and the other a water and sanitation project. The livelihoods project, using such methods as chicken raising, small-scale agriculture and other income-generating enterprises, aims to contribute to strengthening farmers’ capacity through using sustainable and local resources. The water and sanitation project will provide safe drinking water to a whole village, as well as improving toilets and sanitation while providing health awareness training.
Phil Lindsay is Tearfund’s Effectiveness & Humanitarian Team Leader.
As global crises converge, the world’s hardest places, like Afghanistan, South Sudan and Yemen, are thrust into polycrisis. Tearfund’s partners are standing alongside communities in need, building resilience against further shocks. Together, we can be part of the restoration they look forward to. Give today to provide hope in hard places.
Give now to help meet the urgent needs of people in hard places, where communities are struggling with the convergence of poverty, climate shocks, and conflict.
1 Michael Murray Lawrence, “'Polycrisis’ may be a buzzword, but it could help us tackle the world’s woes”, The Conversation, 12 December 2022.
2 Nazanine Moshiri, “Why the Africa Climate Summit can’t afford to overlook conflict”, The New Humanitarian, 4 September 2023.