In annual January fashion, many organizations have released their 2022 crisis watch lists to flag conflicts that they expect to dominate the year ahead. To determine the nuances and overlaps of these various evaluations, we reviewed and synthesized nearly twenty different lists, from NGOs to think tanks and media groups (specific articles reviewed can be found at the bottom of this blog). Armed with this information, we cultivated our own 2022 crisis watch list highlighting seven key issues consistent across the articles. In no particular order, please find our 2022 Crisis Watch Synthesis below.
Fragile States at Increasing Risk
From growing displacement, food insecurity, poverty, loss of human rights, and conflict, fragile states continue to threaten the lives of people around the world. A majority of the reviewed articles flagged humanitarian crises in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Yemen, and Syria as top concerns heading into 2022.
COVID-19 & Global Health Implications
COVID-19 will continue to dominate the global conversation with global vaccine equity and the race between vaccines and variants taking center stage. While 60.7% of the world population has received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, less than 10% of people in low-income countries have been fully vaccinated.
As attention has pivoted to focus on COVID-19, key improvements in the fights against HIV, TB, and malaria have reversed for the first time. The three diseases continue to kill more people in most low- and lower-middle-income countries than COVID-19. For example, malaria continues to kill over half a million people every year, predominantly in sub-Saharan Africa. Further, a polio outbreak that began in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2018 is now an even bigger threat, and Ebola outbreaks continue to strain the country.
Growing Authoritarian Influence
As global power competitions continue to heat up, nearly all consulted articles cited growing authoritarian influence as a top concern, especially noting influence from the Chinese Communist Party.
Growing Russian influence throughout Eastern Europe and around the world was also often listed as cause for concern, as Russia continues to build up arms outside of Ukraine and President Putin pushes back against eastward NATO expansion. Despite the broad consensus in American politics on the importance of competing with China and other authoritarian regimes, the Atlantic Council warns that further division between the U.S. and these authoritarian leaders is unlikely to bring them to heel. Instead, it may create a world in which trade wars make us poorer, and separation into distinct power blocs leaves us more prone to conflict.
Prolonged Economic Downturn in the Developing World
The World Economic Forum projected that the global economy will be 2.3% smaller by 2024 than it would have been without the pandemic.
While no one has emerged unscathed from the economic shocks of the pandemic, women and girls have been hit particularly hard: “Women and girls remain disproportionately affected by the socioeconomic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, struggling with disproportionately high job and livelihood losses, education disruptions and increased burdens of unpaid care work,” detailed Concern.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the pervasive and systemic challenges that stand in the way of closing global gender rights gaps.
Democracy at Risk
Democracy has been on the decline worldwide for 15 years, and experts fear the downturn may continue in 2022. The pandemic has directly impacted democracy around the world, as military and authoritarian leaders take advantage of COVID-19 mandates and political unrest to limit access to elections, crack down on civilian protests, and seize power through military coups. There were six coups in 2021 alone, spurring political upheaval and worsening humanitarian crises in Myanmar, Haiti, Guinea, Chad, Mali, and Sudan. Referenced articles flagged the following countries and regions as top concerns for democratic backsliding in 2022:
In Latin America, COVID-19’s disproportionately harsh economic and social impacts are playing out in a wave of 2021 and 2022 elections with potentially huge impacts for democratic backsliding. Recent key presidential elections in Chile, Ecuador, Honduras, and Peru and midterm legislative elections in Argentina, Mexico, and El Salvador have displayed “anti-incumbent or even anti-system” sentiments, according to Foreign Policy. Experts are closely following these elections as a bellwether for the future of democracy on the continent. At the same time, heavily indebted Latin American countries have increasingly turned to Beijing in search of investment and development finance, at the risk of losing a degree of autonomy to China. Experts will be watching closely through 2022 as Chinese investment in Latin America may continue to affect a turn away from democracy.
Climate Change & Growing Food Insecurity
With climate change set to push 132 million people into poverty this decade and to displace over 1 billion by 2050, low-income nations are disproportionately enduring the destructive effects of changing weather patterns. Beyond the immediate humanitarian and economic impacts of increasingly severe and frequent floods, droughts, wildfires, and storms, the changing climate is also threatening food production.
As food security worsens, articles consulted also expressed concern over other knock-on humanitarian impacts of climate, including changing migration patterns and displacement both within countries and across borders. By 2050, up to 216 million people may have to move within their own countries due to the effects of climate change.
Technology & Threats Posed to Development and Diplomacy
As states, companies, and individuals innovate and develop technology, threats from the digital space will increasingly put governments and individuals at risk around the world. Several resources spotlighted the malicious influence authoritarian regimes and state-supported groups can have using technology, with the Eurasia Group specifically highlighting likely increased Russian cyber operations. China poses a challenge in this field, too, with experts warning that dividing lines between the West and China will become starker due to “bifurcating technology infrastructure…in areas including 5G, fintech, social media and messaging apps, and crypto currencies.”
Looking to 2022, multiple resources flagged election integrity, cybersecurity, and disinformation as primary concerns.
The developing world also faces this challenge as countries balance tradeoffs between access to digital services that are needed for economic opportunities in the 21st century and the risks posed by inadequate cybersecurity or widespread disinformation.
This list, while overwhelming, is far from comprehensive. Countless other challenges around the world face the United States and demand both leadership and action. In 2022, the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition looks forward to supporting much needed resources for America’s diplomacy and development tools to help address humanitarian and development crises all over the world.