International Humanitarian Aid in 2022: Deepening Crisis, New Roles, and ‘Localization’

Şerif Onur Bahçecik
Assoc. Prof. Dr., Middle East Technical University, Political Science and International Relations Department

In 2022, the world and our region faced new crisis while hoping to heal their wounds from the COVID-19 pandemic by reducing its speed and severity and trying to compensate for the losses incurred in the past period through the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Droughts, floods, ongoing or emerging conflicts, and hunger affected many countries and displaced people. The global demand for staple food items such as corn, soybeans, and grains increased, leading to price hikes due to droughts, reaching its peak when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.1 It is quite thought-provoking that prices of basic food items, except for rice, reached these levels before the 2007-2008 global financial crisis and the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

In addition to affecting food exports, the disruption of energy supply disrupted global food security by also impacting fertilizer prices. Developed countries faced inflation rates unseen in recent years due to interrupted energy supply, while the expenditures made during the COVID-19 period and declining incomes caught many developing countries unprepared. Due to the war2, approximately 8 million Ukrainian citizens became refugees according to the latest data.3

Natural disasters, along with war, continued to affect the global humanitarian situation. Heatwaves caused by global climate change affected a wide geography from China to America, leading to occasional wildfires. In Europe, the worst drought in 500 years resulted in the emergence of warnings dated back to the 19th century and earlier (such as the Hungerstein), while the inability to generate electricity in the Yangtze River basin in China affected industrial production in some regions. In Pakistan, heavy rainfall in July and August, twice as much as the average rainfall in the past 30 years, combined with glacier melting, turned into a flood that caused the death of at least 1,391 people. The disaster affected 33 million people and caused $30 billion in damages. Before completing a year in power, the Taliban-led government in Afghanistan faced an earthquake on June 22nd, which claimed the lives of approximately 1,000 people, followed by a flood. 

Türkiye played an important role in many crises in 2022 through official or civil society aid. It would be appropriate to give some examples in this regard. Due to the war in Ukraine, 50,000 Ukrainians sought refuge in Türkiye, including 1,000 orphans and adopted children. After the flood disaster in Pakistan, ‘Goodness Trains’ departed from Türkiye and delivered food and other aid materials. In the following weeks, the ‘Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Tent City’ was opened in the Bholari region of the Sindh province. For Afghanistan, Türkiye contributed to both the UN Development Programme Special Trust Fund5 and sent aid after the earthquake.6 Türkiye’s role in humanitarian crises continues in line with previous years in this respect. 

In 2022, we see that Türkiye has acquired new roles. The country made efforts to keep diplomatic channels open by hosting peace negotiations during the Ukraine War. In addition to the prisoner exchange facilitated by Ankara,7 Türkiye contributed to stabilizing global food prices and ensuring food security through an initiative known as the ‘grain corridor,’ benefiting from diplomacy. 

Türkiye’s experience of preventive diplomacy dating back to previous years had transformed into the ‘Mediation for Peace’ initiative launched with Finland in 2010. Türkiye also contributed to its knowledge in this regard through regular Istanbul Mediation Conferences. This mediation effort, however, includes some originality. Unlike other examples, the initiative for the grain corridor not only affected Ukraine and Russia but also impacted all developing countries, especially food-dependent countries like Egypt and Lebanon. Additionally, many African countries also need the corridor to remain open for food aid. Another uniqueness is that in this example, Türkiye not only utilized its diplomatic expertise and balanced relations with Ukraine and Russia but also effectively used its geographical location. In this way, Türkiye assists global food security not only as a provider but also as a facilitator. 

The official name of the initiative, ‘Black Sea Grain Initiative,’ also known as the ‘Safe Initiative from Grain and Foodstuffs from Ukrainian Ports,’ came into the spotlight with the warnings issued by the UN from March. Before the corridor was decided, various options were proposed by the international community for the transportation of Ukrainian grain. These proposals included implementing a military practice similar to a no-fly zone, adopting a UN Security Council resolution, establishing a humanitarian corridor from Belarus, and Germany’s Grain Bridge Project. It must have been realized over time that these options were not realistic, as the UN presented the grain corridor plan to Ukraine and Russia at the end of April. During this process, the UN and Türkiye made intensive efforts for Russia and Ukraine to reach an agreement.8 By June 8th, the plan started to take shape, and finally, on July 27th, an agreement was signed, and a joint coordination center involving Russia, Ukraine, Türkiye, and the UN powers was established for the inspection of Ukrainian vessels. Although Russia announced the suspension of its participation after the attack on the Sevastopol Port on October 29th, it rejoined the initiative on November 2 with Türkiye’s efforts.9 These efforts demonstrated Türkiye’s humanitarian role during wartime and received appreciation from the UN, the EU and other world leaders. 

Localization Agenda

One of the important developments of 2022 was the localization agenda. As known, while the local and national organizations are the first responders to the needs arising from humanitarian crises, the international humanitarian system is shaped around a few Western states and organizations. While local and national organizations identify and address the needs on the ground, Western actors become visible through the financial resources they provide. The increasing and protracted conflicts that deeply affect societies, the funding challenges in the humanitarian aid system, and the critical perspectives focusing on decolonization have been questioning the hierarchical structure of the aid sector for some time. One of the significant debates at the World Humanitarian Summit hosted by Istanbul in 2016 was the strengthening of local and national actors, referred to as ‘localization.’ 

Although the empowerment of local organizations has been on the agenda of the humanitarian aid field for a long time under different forms and names, localization was emphasized more strongly and comprehensively at this summit, and the ‘Grand Bargain’ committed major donors and organizations to deliver more assistance to people and enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of the system. With the increase in the number of donors and organizations signing the ‘Grand Bargain,’ the framework was updated. In 2022, concrete actions were taken under the headings of ‘increasing transparency, providing more support and funding to local and national actors, conducting joint and impartial needs analysis, involving beneficiaries in decision-making processes, and simplifying reporting processes.

In Türkiye, the ‘Localization Advocacy Group,’ established in 2020, kept the issue on the agenda of civil society. In 2022, while establishing connections with localization advocates in different countries, the ‘Localization Advocacy Group’ also created a dialogue platform among civil society organizations, international organizations, and donors working in the humanitarian aid field in our country. One of the members of the Localization Advocacy Group, the Turkish Refugee Council, facilitated the publication of a research report to assess the extent to which the commitments of the ‘Grand Bargain’ were fulfilled and to highlight the problems related to localization based on data. Another report, supported by Hayata Destek Association from Türkiye and published by ALNAP, presented international comparative information on localization to the public. 

These developments indicate that the issue of localization will continue to be on the agenda of the global humanitarian aid system and that the Turkish civil society, which has gained significant experiences in the Syrian crisis, embraces the issue as a local dynamic.

1. Vos, R. vd. December 20, 2022). COVID-19 and Rising Global Food Prices: What’s Really Happening? 

2. UNHCR. (December 20, 2022). Situation Ukraine Refugee Situation https://data. 

3. France24. (June 18, 2022). More than 1,000 Ukrainian Orphans, Foster Children Take Refuge in Turkey 

4. Shahzad, A., Greenfield, C. (Septembe 11, 2022). U.N. Chief Urges Support for Flood-Hit Pakistan, 

5. Independent Turkey (February 25, 2022). Türkiye, Afganistan Özel Emanet Fonu’na 3 milyon dolar katkı yapacak haber/t%C3%BCrkiye-afganistan-%C3%B6zel-emanet-fonuna-3-milyon-dolar-katk%C4%B1-yapacak 

6. Gündoğmuş, Y. N. (June 23, 2022). Türk Kızılayın yardımları Afganistan’daki depremzedelere ulaştı. 

7. Aksan, S. (September 22, 2022). Esir takası: Türkiye’den başka bir ülke yapamazdı 

8. United Nations (August 1, 2022). Secretary-General’s Remarks to the Media on the Black Sea Grain Initiative press-encounter/2022-08-01/secretary-generals-remarks-the-media-the-black-sea-grain-initiative 

9. Beaumont P., Roth A. (November 2, 2022). Russia Will Rejoin UN Grain Corridor from Ukraine in Humiliating U-Turn nov/02/russia-will-rejoin-un-grain-corridor-from-ukraine-in-humiliating-u-turn 

10. Can, C. (March 15, 2022). Türkiye’de Yerelleşme Çalışmaları İçin Güzel Bir Adım Daha Attık STGM | Sivil Toplum Geliştirme Merkezi, blog/turkiyede-yerellesme-calismalari-icin-guzel-adim-daha-attik. 

11. Morris, F. ve Bahcecik, S.O. (2022). Funding to Local Actors: Evidence from the Syrian Refugee Response in Türkiye, Development Initiatives ve TMK. 

12. Obrecht, A. Swithern, S. ve Doherty, J. (2022). 2022 The State of the Humanitarian System. ALNAP.

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