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The UN just made its largest funding request ever for humanitarian aid

Its new report is a snapshot of a world in chaos.

A couple walk among the ruins of a destroyed mosque in Aleppo, Syria.
Getty Images

A vicious civil war in Syria that shows no signs of winding down. Mass starvation in war-ravaged Yemen. Widespread ethnic cleansing in South Sudan.

A new United Nations report detailing its humanitarian aid efforts around the world offers a snapshot of a world in chaos, and a price estimate for what it would cost to prevent the situation from getting worse: a record-breaking $22.2 billion.

“For 2017, humanitarian partners will require $22.2 billion to meet the needs of 92.8 million people in 33 countries,” the report says. “Humanitarian access is severely constrained and has grown in complexity in countries including Iraq, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, preventing humanitarians from carrying out their work and leaving affected people without basic services and protection.”

The document describes a turbulent world growing ever more perilous for its most vulnerable inhabitants.

Take Syria, which is slated to receive more than a third of the UN’s total requested funding, or about $8 billion. Over the past five years, fighting there has killed more than 400,000 people, left millions on the brink of starvation, and sent more than half of the country’s prewar population fleeing to safer places inside and outside Syrian borders.

In Yemen, the UN estimates it needs $2.7 billion to help the more than 3 million children and pregnant women who are acutely malnourished there, as well as the millions of others currently at risk of starvation.

South Sudan is also a huge priority for the UN humanitarian effort, which wants to spend $3.4 billion in the country. The conflict there has already killed more than 50,000 people and displaced 1 million refugees. Nearly 4 million people are at risk of starvation.

The money the UN actually receives from the global community often doesn’t come close to fulfilling its needs; the UN basically got about half of what it requested from international donors for this year.

The eye-popping amount of money the UN has requested this year breaks a record set last year, which had in turn broken a record set in 2014. To give you a sense of how much things have changed in the past quarter-century, back in 1992 the UN estimated that it needed just $2.7 billion to attend to the world’s most urgent humanitarian crises.

The surge in the UN’s requested funds for humanitarian crises in recent years is an important trend to consider in the big debate over whether the world is growing safer in modern times. While there are a number of factors contributing to the increased need for the UN’s funds, an uptick in costly armed conflict appears to be a chief driver.

"More than 80 percent of the needs stem from man-made conflicts, many of which are now protracted and push up demand for relief year after year," UN emergency relief coordinator Stephen O'Brien explained at a news conference in Geneva on Monday.

Organizations that monitor international conflicts have seen an uptick in conflict in recent years. As the Washington Post notes, “The Heidelberg Institute's Conflict Barometer measured 43 violent wars around the world in 2015 — an increase from 27 in 1997.”

Most of the major conflicts that are driving the UN’s need for funding are showing no sign of letting up. If the world continues on its current course, the UN very well may set another record with its appeal next year.

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