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A line of Ukrainian people wading through floodwaters carrying bags containing food and hygiene kits.
24 June 2024

What is a 'polycrisis', and why is it dangerous?

Learn what a polycrisis is and why it could mean a catastrophe.

It feels as though there are new words and phrases appearing every single day, from fresh slang words to scientific terms and jargon. One such word you may have heard for the first time recently is ‘polycrisis’. If you’re wondering what the definition of polycrisis is, why the word is suddenly appearing more frequently or you want to learn more about what a polycrisis would mean, we look to answer all of your questions in this article.

What is a polycrisis?

A polycrisis is defined as the simultaneous occurrence of several catastrophic events.

When a polycrisis occurs, not only do multiple crises take place at one time, but they amplify the devastating effects of one another and create issues that are larger than the sum of their parts. A polycrisis could be a combination of two or more crises happening concurrently, making the effects of one another more catastrophic. It could include a hunger crisis, a refugee crisis, a natural disaster, a conflict, a global pandemic or another dangerous event.

MORE DEFINITIONS: Child Soldier Definition, Child Marriage Definition, Child Labour Definition

Why is a polycrisis dangerous?

A singular crisis is dangerous – the combined effects of multiple crises happening at once can be catastrophic.

We’ve been working on the front line of crises for over 70 years, protecting vulnerable children through our work as a Christian charity. We’ve seen just how much a single crisis can take from people and the damaging effects that two or more simultaneous crises can have.

A polycrisis is more than just two concurrent crises; it’s a situation where each of those crises worsens the effects of the other, and the issues become interwoven. With a polycrisis, there isn’t a single issue and a single fix; there are multiple issues that all make the others both harder to fix and more dangerous to live through. This is why a polycrisis is so dangerous; it spirals into something bigger and more dangerous the longer it goes on.

READ MORE: How does conflict impact children?

Two Ukrainian women holding a crumpled cardboard box
From war to flooding, displaced Ukrainians felt the devastating effects of the Kakhovka dam disaster

What is an example of a polycrisis?

The term polycrisis isn’t new; however, it’s become incredibly prominent in the past year as we’ve seen a series of overlapping crises across the globe and more people looking forward to what the future could bring. We’ve experienced the effects of the global Covid pandemic, the conflict in Ukraine, come to terms with a cost-of-living crisis, and seen climate change in action, all of which interacted to worsen the effects of the hunger crisis.

Sudan is facing conflict, drought, hunger and economic shocks, all of which are driving the displacement of millions of people. According to the World Bank, Sudan is now the largest displacement crisis in the world, with nearly 10 million internally displaced and a further two million crossing borders to seek refuge in neighbouring countries.

How can you help?

A polycrisis is caused when multiple issues affect one another, so we must tackle those issues head-on to stop them from spiralling out of control. 

It’s not easy to do this, but with our community-led approach, we make sure that we are looking at the whole picture and not only helping with one problem whilst others worsen in the background. This way, small-scale polycrises can be stopped in their tracks to prevent national or international crises from developing.

We listen to the needs of communities and work with local leaders to develop long-term plans, not short-term solutions. And with your support, we can bring them the tools and education they need to break the cycle of poverty together.

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