Last updated:

Complex Humanitarian Emergencies: CDP’s Level 1s

Support recovery now

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) categorizes Complex Humanitarian Emergencies (CHEs) according to several factors, including the number of people affected, the evolving humanitarian situation, appearance and frequency on humanitarian watchlists, the ACAPS Severity Index and alignment with CDP’s strategic plan and priorities.

We use a number of sources to inform our analysis and funding priorities, including Fund for Peace’s Fragile States Index, global hunger index and ACAPS INFORM Severity Indices. These data sources help CDP:

  • Decide where to support.
  • Create an understanding of the kind of needs the affected populations have.
  • Think about scenarios.
  • Anticipate what may happen next.

Based on our analysis of these factors, CDP divides its CHEs into three levels – 1, 2 and 3. For a more detailed understanding of this division, please see our CHE Issue Insight. The countries listed in the Impact section below highlight the level 1 CHEs that CDP has identified as a focus for 2022, in addition to the many CHEs for which  CDP maintains dedicated profiles. The CHEs that are excluded from this list are no less urgent. We included a significant number of CHEs that capture many of the key issues one might find in CHE contexts.

(Photo: IDPs in the capital of South Sudan relocate to a cleaner, drier location across town, under the protection of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan. Source: UN Photo/Isaac Billy; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The INFORM Severity Index provided and hyperlinked with each CHE includes a score published by ACAPS to help describe the impact, conditions of affected people and complexity of a crisis. Each crisis is assigned a number on a scale of 1 (less severe) to 5 (more severe). Information for these scores comes from a range of credible, publicly available sources such as UN agencies and other multilateral organizations.

We also link to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) Global Humanitarian Overview (GHO). The UN OCHA GHO is a comprehensive, evidence-based assessment of humanitarian needs. The GHO for each country is a snapshot of current needs and future trends in humanitarian action. The objective of these reports is to provide donors, humanitarian workers and the public with an overview of achievements and challenges.

CDP’s Level 1 CHEs
Latest Updates

See all

About this section

In this section, each country that CDP has rated as a Level 1 CHE is listed separately along with key information about its score and rating.


ACAPS Score | UN OCHA Global Humanitarian Overview

Three crises: The Lake Chad basin drought and conflict, the North-West and South-West crisis and the Central African Republic (CAR) refugee crisis all contribute to displacement, resource scarcity and food insecurity. Humanitarian needs are further compounded by the impacts of structural development issues and frequent climate-related disaster events like floods and droughts.

Central African Republic (CAR)

ACAPS Score | UN OCHA Global Humanitarian Overview

CAR has experienced violence dating back to the 1960s that has become further heightened since the Seleka – a coalition of armed, primarily Muslim groups – launched an attack against the government in 2013. This violence has spread and destabilized the country, resulting in human rights abuses, targeted killings and mass displacement totaling more than 1 million people in 2021. Additionally, food shortages and high food prices mean much of the population faces severe food insecurity.


ACAPS Score | UN OCHA Global Humanitarian Overview

Refugees from Nigeria, Sudan and CAR have fled to Chad, where security threats from Boko Haram and military operations to counter the non-state armed group further complicate the displacement issues. Security issues and mass displacement have led to disrupted livelihoods and food insecurity throughout the country, with more than 5 million people facing food insecurity and only 33.5% of the population able to access clean drinking water in 2021. Chad is also facing multiple disease outbreaks in addition to COVID-19.


ACAPS Score | UN OCHA Global Humanitarian Overview

Years after the signing of the Peace Agreement between the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in 2016, hostilities, drug trafficking and violence affecting civilian populations, especially ethnic minorities due to organized non-state armed groups, are ongoing and increasing. This, combined with the impact of extreme weather events, social unrest and, importantly, the continued influx of millions of Venezuelan migrants and refugees, all contribute to the increase in humanitarian needs.

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

ACAPS Score | UN OCHA Global Humanitarian Overview

DRC has been experiencing a complex emergency for more than 20 years, with high levels of displacement (around 5 million people) mostly driven by armed clashes and intercommunal violence between foreign, self-defense and other armed groups. Local populations face daily threats of violence, food insecurity, extreme weather events and multiple disease outbreaks (e.g., Ebola, COVID-19.) These all contribute to high levels of vulnerability, which are compounded by high levels of extreme poverty, weak infrastructure and a lack of basic social services.


ACAPS Score | UN OCHA Global Humanitarian Overview

Haiti is consistently ranked the poorest and one of the most fragile countries in the Western Hemisphere, with high levels of poverty, corruption and historic and situational vulnerability. In addition to frequent extreme weather events and natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, landslides and droughts, Haiti has faced socioeconomic and political challenges for many years. The increasing presence of armed gangs and upticks in violence has led to frequent internal displacement, inability to access basic services and overall protection concerns.


ACAPS Score | UN OCHA Global Humanitarian Overview

Conflict between rival militant groups, nomadic herder communities, pastoralist farmers and other groups continues to drive displacement and cause limited access to resources such as food, water, health services and education. Unreliable food availability and loss of livelihoods stem from disruptions in economic and trade activities, hampered by ongoing violent conflict and insecurity.


ACAPS Score | UN OCHA Global Humanitarian Overview

Longstanding conflicts among Myanmar’s armed forces (the Tatmadaw), militias and ethnic armed organizations have resulted in protection concerns for civilians, limited basic services, threatened livelihoods and a lack of economic opportunities. The military coup in 2021 has caused mass forcible displacement in Chin, Kachin, Rakhine and Shan states, and caused about 1 million refugees to flee into Bangladesh, Malaysia and Thailand.


ACAPS Score | UN OCHA Global Humanitarian Overview

The Boko Haram insurgent activities in the northeast, violence and robbery in the northwest, nomadic and pastoralist farmer conflict over land, water and natural resources in the middle of the country, and the refugee population in the south have contributed to high insecurity and increasingly frequent and high levels of displacement. In addition to protection needs, much of the population faces chronic poverty, little to no access to health services and food insecurity.


ACAPS Score | UN OCHA Global Humanitarian Overview

Years of weak or no formal governance structures, a lack of investment in institutions, internal conflict, protests, the weakness of the national forces, the withdrawal of the African Union Mission and attacks by the Islamic State and Al Shabaab have contributed to widespread insecurity, causing high displacement. The country’s population faces significant levels of vulnerability due to extreme poverty, widespread food insecurity (frequently breaching crisis and emergency thresholds and high risk of famine), insecurity, increasingly severe and catastrophic droughts and floods, which are further compounded by limited water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure and a lack of access to basic primary health care.


ACAPS Score | UN OCHA Global Humanitarian Overview

Sudan’s complex crisis is rooted in decades of internal conflict, political instability, extreme weather events and poor economic conditions that have contributed to widespread food insecurity, malnutrition and a lack of basic services, especially health services. While these crises have resulted in millions of internally displaced Sudanese, Sudan also hosts refugees from South Sudan and Ethiopia.

During a complex humanitarian emergency, immediate needs include shelter; food; water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH); health care; education; protection of at-risk populations and case management. These needs will continue through the course of the CHE. Each of these CHEs is different, yet there are some common elements.

Emergency funding

Immediate funding is required to provide emergency assistance on the ground. There are a number of urgent needs that apply in most cases including, provision of food and nutritional supplements, WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene), interventions in conflict management, and provision of non-food items, such as plastic sheets, containers for water, cooking items and hygiene items.

WASH is an urgent need in most CHEs. Millions of peoples’ living standards and well-being will be impacted in 2022 due to inadequate or lack of access to safe water and improved sanitation. Safe drinking water and basic sanitation is needed to reduce the risk of water-borne related outbreaks.

Long-term solutions

Although emergency aid is essential, at the same time, there is also a need in most places to invest in longer-term solutions and resilience-building measures to save people’s lives and livelihoods and prevent them from leaving their homes in search of food, water and health care. Increased numbers of Internally Displaced Persons or Refugees can make the crisis worse internally within a country and in neighboring countries.

Climate crisis

There is also a need for disaster preparedness, climate mitigation and adaptation initiatives to address the impacts of the global climate crisis, which affects many of these CHEs. This should include providing support to address structural development needs for vulnerable and at-risk groups.

Livelihood support

Livelihood support is often critical in a CHE and yet is often underfunded. Livelihood support includes recovering lost livelihoods and building resilience through identifying the most vulnerable affected households. It is also important to work with local community-based organizations (CBOs) and governments and to strengthen the resilience of local markets for the most affected groups.

Cash assistance

As with most disasters and emergencies, cash donations are recommended by disaster experts as they allow for on-the-ground agencies to direct funds to the most significant area of need, support economic recovery and ensure donation management does not detract from disaster recovery needs.

CDP recommends cash both as a donation method and a recovery strategy. Providing direct cash assistance can allow families to purchase items and services that address their multiple needs. It gives each family flexibility and choice, ensuring that support is relevant and timely. Cash assistance can also help move families faster towards rebuilding their lives.


Displacement contributes to and exacerbates protection risks. Protection issues are usually a concern for at-risk groups, including children, women, elderly persons and persons with disabilities, as families lose their socioeconomic and community-support structures.

Physical and mental health

In most CHEs, people have dealt with years of conflict which has resulted in both physical and mental health impacts. It is rare that areas facing a complex crisis have a strong physical or mental health system to respond to the needs of the population. The impact of COVID-19 in all of these areas has also resulted in trauma and mental health conditions for a large proportion of each country’s population. Despite mental health and psychosocial concerns, access to support remains lacking and is urgently needed along with life-skills education.

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy has a Global Recovery Fund that provides an opportunity for donors to meet the ongoing and ever-expanding challenges presented by global crises. CDP is tracking organizations that are responding. We are also in contact with and can grant to organizations that are not 501(c)3 entities.

Support recovery now

Contact CDP

Philanthropic contributions

If you would like to make a donation to the CDP Global Recovery Fund, please contact development.

(Photo: A view of the Protection of Civilians site in Bentiu, South Sudan. Source: World Humanitarian Summit; CC BY-ND 2.0)

Recovery updates

If you are a responding NGO, please send updates on how you are working in these crises to

We welcome the republication of our content. Please credit the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

Donor recommendations

If you are a donor looking for recommendations on how to help in these crises, please email

Philanthropic and government support

CDP’s COVID-19 Response Fund focused some of its recent grants (sometimes combined with other funds) on countries experiencing CHEs. These included:

  • $75,000 to Cameroonian national NGO Care and Health Program that will ensure that 150 community health workers from community-based organizations working with key marginalized populations are trained on awareness, surveillance and detection of suspected cases of COVID-19 in the community and in the appropriate protocols regarding community case management and referral to treatment sites.
  • A $250,000 grant to Oxfam to mitigate the risks of spread of COVID-19. The program will reach 5,000 people, primarily refugees, migrants and returnees from Venezuela and host communities in the rural Wayuu indigenous communities in the Department of La Guajira, Colombia. In collaboration with Fuerza de Mujeres Wayuu, the project is intended to improve basic services, increase access to water, promote good hygiene practices, ensure better protection and sexual and reproductive health of girls, and increase resiliency.
  • A $450,000 grant (in conjunction with the Haiti Earthquake Recovery Fund) to Action Against Hunger aimed at mitigating the complex and interrelated needs resulting from the compounded impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Haiti earthquake of August 2021 on vulnerable communities. This program will benefit 106,871 vulnerable affected people through rehabilitation and improving access to basic health, water, sanitation and hygiene, and nutrition services.
  • A $250,000 grant to Humanity & Inclusion in the Democratic Republic of Congo) to support the community-based prevention of COVID-19 and good hygiene practices and to promote access to health care for the most vulnerable people through the strengthening of women’s clubs in the communes of Bumbu and Selembao in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.

More ways to help

As with most disasters, cash donations are recommended by disaster experts as they allow for on-the-ground agencies to direct funds to the greatest area of need, support economic recovery and ensure donation management does not detract from disaster recovery needs.

CDP has also created a list of suggestions for foundations to consider related to disaster giving. These include:

  • Understand that recovery is possible in protracted and complex crisis settings: Even while focusing on immediate needs, remember that there are early and long-term recovery needs too. We know that people who have been affected by shocks in complex humanitarian contexts can recover and improve their situation without waiting until the crisis is over, which may take years. Recovery is possible and funding will be needed for recovery efforts alongside humanitarian funding. Recovery will take a long time and funding will be needed throughout.
  • Recognize there are places and ways that private philanthropy can help that other donors may not: Private funders can support nimble and innovative solutions that leverage or augment the larger humanitarian system response, either filling gaps or modeling change that, once tested and proven, can be taken to scale within the broader humanitarian response structure. Philanthropy can also provide sustainable funding to national and local organizations that support operational costs evolution, independence and other efforts on behalf of affected people.
  • All funders are disaster philanthropists: Even if your organization does not work in a particular geographic area or fund immediate relief efforts, you can look for ways to tie disaster funding into your existing mission. If you focus on education, health, children or marginalized populations, disasters present prime opportunities for funding.
  • Ask the experts: If you are considering supporting an organization that is positioned to work in an affected area, do some research. CDP and InterAction can provide resources and guidance about organizations working in affected communities. The Council on Foundations provides legal resources through its Country Notes (some components are members-only).

Fund resources

See them all

Complex Humanitarian Emergencies

Complex Humanitarian Emergencies

CHEs involve an acute emergency layered over ongoing instability. Multiple scenarios can cause CHEs, like the civil wars in Syria and Yemen, the man-made political crisis in Venezuela, or the public health crisis in Congo.

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)

Water is one of the most necessary elements for life, yet according to the World Health Organization/UNICEF, 2.1 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water. In addition, 4.5 billion people lack safely-managed sanitation facilities. Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) principles are of tremendous concern in everyday life, but can be heightened during an emergency or disaster.

Emergency and Interim Shelter

Emergency and Interim Shelter

After a disaster, shelter is more than a place to rest, it is a place of security, access to food, water and medical treatment. A place to start recovering after a disaster.

Support equitable disaster recovery today!

Your gift to CDP’s #GivingTuesday campaign will be matched by a generous donor, doubling your impact!

Give now