2022 Crisis Watch Synthesis

January 27, 2022 By Jessica Ritchie and Katherine Larson

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.

  • While Afghanistan struggled long prior to the Taliban takeover in August 2021, the state now faces possible collapse, with a fraught economy, a paralyzed financial sector, and 23 million Afghans facing imminent starvation. Some experts go so far as to estimate that Afghanistan could see “near universal poverty (97%) by mid-2022.”
  • In Ethiopia, over a year of fighting between Prime Minister Abiy’s federal army and forces from the Tigray region has ripped the country apart. The civil war has killed tens of thousands of people, and 1 million Ethiopians have been displaced. Both sides stand accused of human rights atrocities, and while almost 1 million people face famine conditions, aid agencies struggle to reach the more than 9 million Ethiopians in need of assistance.
  • Although Yemen’s civil war largely faded from headlines in 2021, 80% of the Yemini population is in urgent need of aid, including 2 million children suffering from acute malnutrition. More than 20 million Yemenis require humanitarian assistance, but blockades have severely restricted access to crucial humanitarian a
  • In Syria, people are enduring the worst economic crisis since the civil war began in 2011. Water shortages in northern Syria are creating drought-like conditions for millions, and they face record levels of food insecurity. Over 6 million Syrians are internally displaced, and 14 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance.

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.

  • The failure to vaccinate poorer countries has left us with the possibility that we will face an endemic threat from COVID-19, according to the Atlantic Council.
  • The U.N. Foundation reminded us that it is crucial to work toward the global target of getting 70% of people in every country vaccinated by mid-2022.
  • Articles from Concern, the Eurasia Group, the U.N. Foundation, the Economist, the Center for Foreign Relations, US NEWS, and more emphasized the threat COVID-19 poses to the world’s economy, health, and future.

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.

  • So far, China has spent $843 billion on Belt and Road Initiative projects across 165 countries, expanding its influence overseas. The CCP continues to escalate military activity in Taiwan, infringe on human rights in Xinjiang, and crack down on Hong Kong’s independence.
  • As a result, competition with China is becoming an ordering principle of U.S. policy and is the subject of rare bipartisan agreement in Washington.

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.

  • As a result of the compounding effects of the pandemic, it is projected that between 100 and 150 million people were pushed back into extreme poverty in 2021, living on less than $1.90 a day.
  • Even those who were able to remain in the middle class in the developing world might encounter spiraling economic insecurity due to the political and economic aftershocks, which could continue to push people into poverty.

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:

  • Following the Myanmar military coup, the Tamatdaw – Myanmar’s militaryresponded to mostly peaceful protests with violent crackdowns, killing at least 1,300 civilians and displacing 300,000. Poverty rates are estimated to have doubled since 2019, and half of all households cannot afford enough food to eat.
  • In Haiti, poverty, corruption, gang violence, and political upheaval have been compounded by slow recovery from devastating natural disasters. Deteriorating public security has led to an estimated 9 million Haitians in need of humanitarian support as well as a mass exodus of refugees.
  • In 2022, international institutions will continue to face the challenge of supporting democratic growth and delivering much-needed humanitarian aid in both Myanmar and Haiti, despite exceedingly limited access.

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.

  • Global food prices are at their highest level since July 2011, and hunger has reached unprecedented highs.
  • The New Humanitarian noted that up to 283 million people are short of food, with 45 million people on the brink of famine – a scale of desperation unseen in recent history. Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Yemen are among the countries most in need.

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.

  • Not only does social media give authoritarian regimes the power to shape the political narrative using paid trolls, bots, and disinformation, but it also has been used to incite hate and target minority groups globally.
  • At the same time, threats to cybersecurity are growing – malware and ransomware attacks increased by 358% and 435% respectively in 2020 and outpaced societies’ ability to respond to them.

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.

Articles Consulted

  1. 5 Big Foreign-Policy Things We’re Watching in 2022,” Foreign Policy, January 2022.
  2. 5 Global Issues to Watch in 2022,” United Nations Foundation, December 2021.
  3. 5 Trends shaping global development in 2022,” Devex, January 2022.
  4. 7 of the Worst Humanitarian Crises to Know in 2022,” Concern, December 2021.
  5. 10 Conflicts to Watch in 2022,” Foreign Policy, December 2021. (*same article, also shared by International Crisis Group)
  6. 10 Conflicts to Watch in 2022,” International Crisis Group, December 2021. (*same article, also shared by Foreign Policy)
  7. Conflicts to Watch in 2022,” Center on Foreign Relations, January 2022.
  8. Global Risks Report 2022,” World Economic Forum, January 2022.
  9. Eight Global Humanitarian Crises to Watch in 2022,” Catholic Relief Services, December 2021.
  10. Issues to watch in 2022,” Chatham House, December 2021.
  11. Six humanitarian crises to watch out for in 2022,” Concern, December 2021.
  12. Ten economic trends that could define 2022,” Financial Times, January 2022.
  13. Ten humanitarian crises and trends to watch in 2022,” The New Humanitarian, December 2021.
  14. Ten trends to watch in the coming year,” The Economist, November 2021.
  15. The 2021 Stories That Will Shape 2022,” US News, December 2021.
  16. The Top 10 Global Risks of 2022,” TIME, January 2022. (**same article, also shared by Eurasia Group)
  17. The top 10 crises the world can’t ignore in 2022,” International Rescue Committee, December 2021.
  18. The top twelve risks and opportunities for 2022,” Atlantic Council.
  19. Top Risks 2022,” Eurasia Group, January 2022. (**same article, also shared by TIME)
  20. Visualizing 2022: Trends to Watch,” Center on Foreign Relations, December 2021.