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, with 3 being the worst. 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 as of February 2024, 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 United Nations (UN) agencies and other multilateral organizations.

We also link to the UN 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.

The arrival of asylum seekers and returnees since the start of the war in Sudan represents another driver of humanitarian needs in the country.


ACAPS Score | UN OCHA Global Humanitarian Overview

Refugees and returnees 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, mass displacement and the country’s socioeconomic situation have led to disrupted livelihoods and food insecurity throughout the country.

The influx of vulnerable people, from Sudan in particular, puts receiving communities under pressure and puts stress on basic social services. Natural hazards, such as flooding, are persistent threats that lead to serious health risks and additional displacement.


ACAPS Score | UN OCHA Global Humanitarian Overview

Since the installment of the Colombian government in 2023, policy strides have been made, and efforts to foster dialogue and ceasefires with some armed groups continue. Despite these efforts, Colombia still struggles with persistent challenges, including the impact of armed conflict and ongoing disasters, which result in significant humanitarian needs.

Additionally, Colombia hosts a large number of Venezuelan migrants and refugees who need support.

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 mostly driven by armed clashes and intercommunal violence between foreign, self-defense and other armed groups.

Local populations face multiple forms of violence, including high rates of violence against women, food insecurity, extreme weather events and epidemics. 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.

The Sahel Regional Crisis (Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal)

UN OCHA Humanitarian Needs and Requirements Overview 2023

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. Natural hazards, including floods and drought, combined with underlying vulnerabilities, result in devastating disasters with widespread impacts.


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 caused mass forcible displacement across Myanmar and pushed people to search for safety in other countries in the region.

Agriculture has been interrupted, and food accessibility presents challenges resulting in millions facing food insecurity. Internally displaced people and non-displaced stateless Rohingya people are among those most in need. Cyclone Mocha, which hit the Myanmar coast on May 14, 2023, impacted millions of people where needs were already high.


ACAPS Score | UN OCHA Global Humanitarian Overview

The Boko Haram insurgent activities in the northeast, violence and robbery in the northwest, and nomadic and pastoralist farmer conflict over land, water and natural resources in the middle of the country have contributed to high insecurity and needs.

The humanitarian situation in northeast Nigeria is serious and widespread after more than a decade of conflict in the region. People across Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states face constant threats to their wellbeing and significant protection concerns.

In March 2024, there were more mass abductions, this time targeting IDPs as well as school children, likely by Boko Haram and possibly bandits looking for ransom. In addition to protection needs, much of the population faces chronic poverty, little to no access to health services and food insecurity. Severe flooding exacerbates the crisis, leading to further displacement and the need for shelter, health and livelihood recovery assistance.


ACAPS Score | UN OCHA Global Humanitarian Overview

Years of weak or no formal governance structures, a lack of investment in institutions, internal conflict, and ongoing military operations 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 and 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.

During a CHE, immediate needs include shelter; food; water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH); health care; education; and protection of at-risk populations. 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: the provision of food and nutritional supplements, emergency shelter, WASH and provision of non-food items, such as plastic sheets, containers for water, cooking items and hygiene items. Food security and WASH are urgent needs in most CHEs and are often interconnected, considering that access to water contributes to food production. Millions of peoples’ living standards and well-being are impacted due to inadequate or lack of access to safe water and improved sanitation. Safe drinking water and basic sanitation are needed to reduce the risk of water-borne outbreaks.

Less obvious but equally life-threatening are the protection gaps that vulnerable groups experience, particularly women, girls and boys. Safety from violence, including rape and/or abduction, is increasingly included as an urgent need alongside water, food and shelter.

Long-term solutions

Although emergency aid is important, at the same time, there is also a need 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 investment in disaster preparedness, climate mitigation and adaptation initiatives to address the impacts of the global climate crisis, which affects many of these CHEs.

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 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 girls, boys, women, elderly persons and persons with disabilities, as families lose their socioeconomic and community-support structures. Investments are needed in programs focused on addressing gender-based violence, child protection, inequality, disability inclusions and marginalization of these populations.

Physical and mental health/psychosocial support

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. Despite mental health and psychosocial concerns, access to support remains lacking and is urgently needed.

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 have questions about donating to the CDP Global Recovery Fund, need help with your disaster-giving strategy or want to share how you’re responding to this disaster, 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.

Philanthropic and government support

CDP has various funds that focus on countries experiencing CHEs including the Global Recovery Fund, the COVID-19 Response Fund and the Global Hunger Crisis Fund. The following are examples of CDP’s investments in CHEs:

  • $200,000 through the COVID-19 Response Fund to The Asia Foundation in 2020. In Myanmar, the project aimed to create new economic opportunities for vulnerable under/unemployed job-seeking youth and help small and medium businesses maintain business continuity.
  • $109,471 through the Global Hunger Crisis Fund to Adeso in 2022 to implement a project using Survivor and Community Led Response methodology by providing small grants to community members in Somalia located in food insecure areas that are on the brink of famine so each can develop solutions that respond to their own differing needs.
  • $250,000 through the COVID-19 Response Fund to Plan International in 2021 to ensure that hard-to-reach populations including refugees, IDPs, children, youth and especially girls in Cameroon have access to information sharing and sensitization on COVID-19 protective measures and vaccines. The project worked with local health actors and leaders to design and disseminate targeted messaging that supported behavioral change and helped communities demystify myths about COVID-19, improve hygiene habits, reduce the risk of gender-based violence to girls and increase the uptake of vaccines in these hard-to-reach communities.
  • $541,404 through the COVID-19 Response Fund to Ubongo International in 2022 to reach 5 million children from low-income households in Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who have suffered learning loss due to COVID-related school closures that left them with little to no learning resources. Through adaptation, translation (into Igbo and Lingala), and distribution of local-language early learning programs and public service announcements on TV (animations), radio, digital and print, Ubongo will help 3 to 8-year-olds and caregivers in Nigeria and the DRC improve learning outcomes (both in terms of school readiness and those in primary school) and social-emotional skills and build healthy habits for COVID prevention, mental health and positive parenting.

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.
  • Prioritize investments in local organizations: Local humanitarian leaders and organizations play a vital role in providing immediate relief and setting the course for long-term equitable recovery in communities after a disaster or crisis. However, these leaders and organizations are mostly under-resourced and underfunded. Grant to locally-led entities as much as possible. When granting to trusted international partners with deep roots in targeted countries, more consideration should be given to those that empower local and national stakeholders.
  • Take the long view: Even while focusing on immediate needs, remember that it will take some time for the full range of needs to emerge. Be patient in planning for disaster funding. Recovery will take a long time and while recovery efforts can begin immediately, funding will be needed throughout.
  • 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).


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.



Drought is often defined as an unusual period of drier than normal weather that leads to a water shortage. Drought causes more deaths and displaces more people than any other disaster.



The Latin root of “resilience” means to bounce back, but every field has its own definition and most individuals within each discipline will define it differently. Learn more.