In 2022, while still reeling from the pandemic, the global economy was hit by the shock of war in Ukraine. Even in relatively rich countries, the resultant spike in food and fuel prices threatened to derail government budgets and to cripple household finances. In Africa, many refugee-hosting countries were also struggling with the impact of a historic drought. For UNHCR, the worsening economic environment raised the cost of delivering assistance and put new pressure on donors, while also increasing poverty and vulnerability and potentially creating new displacement emergencies. At the same time, the number of forcibly displaced and stateless people hit a new record, surpassing 100 million.
In this context, many of UNHCR’s operations were severely underfunded. By May 2022, it had become clear that UNHCR was poised to receive the same level of total contributions as it had in 2021, but needs were rising, and there was effectively a $1 billion gap in needs beyond the Ukraine emergency.
UNHCR appealed to donors for urgent help, citing 12 of its largest operations that were at perennial risk of underfunding. They were Bangladesh, Chad, Colombia, the DRC, Ethiopia, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, South Sudan, Sudan, Uganda and Yemen. UNHCR reiterated its appeal later in the year, and by the end of 2022, it had allocated one quarter of its flexible funding to these 12 operations, or $462.2 million, enough to cover 25% of their expenditure during the year. In Chad, Iraq and South Sudan, the reliance on flexible funding was even higher, accounting for more than 30% of expenditure.
In absolute terms, the largest allocation of flexible funding went to Lebanon, which received $78.8 million, mainly for well-being and basic needs and for access to territory, registration and documentation. This meant UNHCR could provide multi-purpose cash assistance to 167,000 households, and 292,000 households with winter cash, a lifeline for vulnerable refugees living in poverty. These flexible funds also enabled a wide range of activities by UNHCR, such as ensuring the registration of every refugee and asylum-seeker, including 13,000 newborns, carrying out 9,000 visits to detention facilities, and providing 50,000 refugees with legal aid in respect of legal residency, protection from deportation, redress for exploitation, harassment and abuse, evictions, family and labour law.
In Uganda, more than one quarter of the flexible funding allocated to the operation went towards health care. This included measles vaccinations, with overall coverage in the refugee settlement of 96%, and perinatal care, with 95% of births attended by a skilled birth attendant. In Ethiopia, where many displaced people were at risk from the drought, flexible funding provided more than one third of expenditure on clean water, hygiene and sanitation. UNHCR was able to construct 394 communal latrines and laid on emergency water trucking in three locations. The average daily water provision fell from 19 litres to 15 litres per person, below the emergency target of 20 litres, but flexible funding helped to prevent it falling further.