Media CenterTop 5 Humanitarian Stories to Watch in 2017

Photo by Nancy McNally/CRS

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Here is a roundup of the top humanitarian stories and trends we think will be most relevant in 2017. 


A child walks across a stark landscape in Zimbabwe that used to be a watering hole but has since dried up due to prolonged drought. Photo by Nancy McNally/CRS
#1:  Work to help the world’s poorest communities adapt to the effects of climate change will continue 

The climate for climate change is likely to be different in the Trump administration. But both lessening and adapting to rising temperatures and altered weather patterns have become so ingrained in the work of relief and development agencies, they will certainly continue this work no matter what happens in Washington. The same is true for their private sector partners -- climate change “adaptation and mitigation” are baked into development programs. But will funding be a challenge, especially for poor nations trying to adapt, looking to nations like the U.S. for help? What about policies and regulations? 

"Climate change does not need to be controversial — it has much to do with understanding how communities are being affected by weather and ensuring that we are designing aid that reflects the risk and realities of what's happening on the ground," said Lori Pearson, senior policy adviser at Catholic Relief Services (CRS). "We need to be listening to our communities and acting on what we hear in order to protect the development gains we've seen."

Over the past 10 years, CRS has helped small farmers in countries like Madagascar, which produces some of the best vanilla in the world, bring their crops to market at a profit. Photo by Jefferson Shiver for CRS

#2:  Impact investing will grow  

A growing trend in humanitarianism, with over $50 billion in assets, impact investing is attracting those who look for both financial and social returns on their investments, accessing enormous and growing pools of private sector capital to build scalable, sustainable businesses that can help alleviate poverty and provide responsible stewardship of the planet. For instance, an impact investor might help build a water system in an impoverished area expecting that the price paid for that water will provide funds to pay a dividend on his loan while also knowing the investment has helped people access a needed resource. CRS made its first impact investment in 2016, a $500,000 loan to a firm working with vanilla bean farmers in Madagascar, and expects to make more in 2017 as it works to engage the worldwide Catholic community in impact investing. 

“It is important that ethics once again play its due part in the world of finance and that markets serve the interests of peoples and the common good of humanity,” Pope Francis said at 2016’s second Vatican conference on Impact Investing, sponsored by CRS. “It is increasingly intolerable that financial markets are shaping the destiny of peoples rather than serving their needs, or that the few derive immense wealth from financial speculation while the many are deeply burdened by the consequences.”

The number of Central American children and families fleeing rampant violence and poverty to seek refuge in the U.S. this year could surpass the “surge” of 2014. Photo by Oscar Leiva/Silverlight for CRS
#3: More Central American families will cross the U.S. southern border 

The number of Central American children and families fleeing rampant violence and poverty to seek refuge in the U.S. this year could surpass the “surge” of 2014, when the number of children traveling across the US-Mexico border alone reached crises levels. Although their plight was largely left out of election debates, these refugees fleeing gang violence are particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation by smugglers and organized criminal networks along the way.  

“We are seeing violence of epidemic proportions in El Salvador and Honduras with gangs intimidating community members and attacking police. People don’t want to leave their homes but they do—in some cases with only a moment’s notice—because their lives are a stake,” said Richard Jones, CRS’ senior technical advisor for Latin America and the Caribbean, who has worked in El Salvador for more than 26 years. “We have to better understand the conditions causing people to flee and invest in community-based programs focused on security, job creation and violence prevention.” 

CRS work in the region includes job training for thousands of youth along with seed capital necessary to create alternatives to the limited job market.

Refugees make their way across the Greek-Macedonian border. Photo by Matthieu Alexandre/Caritas Internationalis

#4: Displacement in the Middle East will Continue 

The sixth anniversary of the war in Syria is just months away, with no indication of when the violence will end. The battle to drive out ISIS in Iraq also continues, forcing tens of thousands of Iraqis to flee to safety.

It’s now estimated that more than 65 million people worldwide have been displaced, more than at any other time in history. That number will only grow as war and conflict continue to drive people away from their homes. Since no one can predict when these refugees will be able to return home, the challenge is providing for their long-term needs. CRS has provided food, shelter, jobs and educational opportunities for millions of refugees around the world and will continue that work to ensure a generation is not lost.

“There are human faces behind the statistics," said Kevin Hartigan, regional director for the Middle East for Catholic Relief Services. "Each of these millions of displaced people is an individual uprooted from a full life, a family member, a loved one.”

Many of those uprooted are children. Without a proper education, they are at risk of becoming a “lost generation.” 

Catholic Relief Services supports health systems strengthening work in the state of Uttar Pradesh in India with a mobile health initiative that works with community level maternal and child health workers. Photo by Jen Hardy/CRS

#5: Technology will play an even bigger role in scaling up development programs

In the developing world, technological gadgets are not just a matter of convenience, entertainment and productivity – they can be matters of life and death. Cell phones are ubiquitous in poorer countries as they provide communication without costly infrastructure investments. And these smart phones can be used to warn poor communities of typhoons in Asia. Tablet devices can provide critical information to health workers and dramatically improve the work of teachers. Satellite monitoring of water levels in wells in remote parts of drought-hit east Africa can be monitored by engineers hundreds of miles away, providing an early warning of an impending catastrophe. 

“Today across the developing world, people from all walks of life - farmers, teachers, mothers - are using mobile devices to access weather data, market information, financial services, and medical advice,” said Carol Bothwell, CRS’ leader on Information Communications and Technology 4 Development (ICT4D). “Local governments, development organizations, and social enterprises are harnessing the power of real-time data, social media, and analytics to improve the quality and reach of the services they provide to those living in extreme poverty.”

CRS is a founding sponsor of the world’s largest tech for development conference that in 2017 takes place in Hyderabad, India, May 15-18.

Feel free to use this list or contact Nikki Gamer to talk to one of our experts quoted in this article. 


Nikki Gamer

Media Relations Manager

Nikki Gamer
December 21, 2016

Based in Baltimore, MD

Nikki is the Media Relations Manager for CRS and connects journalists to regional stories and sources related to the agency’s life-saving development work. Previously, Nikki worked as the Communications Officer for the Middle East, Europe, and Central Asia. She has covered CRS’ response to the Syrian refugee crisis and the mass displacement of...More