The 10 most under-reported humanitarian crises of 2017
There is a place on earth where every day, on average, over 5,000 people have to flee their homes. There is a country in which nearly half of all young children are starving. Do you know these places? If the answer is 'no', you are not alone.
The news media is facing daunting challenges covering domestic news – which can lurch from issue to issue based on little more than a Tweet – let alone all the death and destruction happening globally. A dizzying array of disasters, wars and other crises rage across the world, making it hard to focus on all of them. Dwindling funds leave fewer journalists available to cover disasters, particularly those in war-torn countries that are extremely difficult to access. Yet telling the world about people who are facing their darkest hours is more important than ever.
CARE produced this report to highlight those crises that, though large, have gotten so little attention. “Suffering In Silence” is a call for the global community to help and to advocate for people in crises who are otherwise forgotten.
This is not about comparing misery. Nor about pointing our fingers at anyone, or overwhelming people with yet more crises to worry about and to guilt them into feeling helpless given the magnitude of suffering. On the contrary: In a time where “fake news”, hate speech and increasingly noisy voices from the far right, it is easy to lose track of what is also important in world news.
As humanitarian organisations, CARE International and others work hard to deliver aid to places that are difficult to reach. In order to create meaningful change, all actors have to work together. Those with a voice in public, from media representatives to politicians, have a social and moral responsibility to support crises that are mostly off the radar.
The 10 most under-reported crises in 2017
The worst flooding in decades
Torrential rains, leading to flooding, landslides and mudslides, scoured the dry landscape of coastal Peru in March 2017. Large parts of the country were severely affected, including the capital city of Lima. The rains caused the worst flooding in 20 years, with 10 times the normal levels of rainfall across Peru. By April, nearly half the country was in a state of emergency. Public health emergencies were declared in seven regions.
The disaster was the result of a natural phenomenon called El Niño Costero (coastal El Niño), which came off the back of ocean warming due to man-made climate change. In contrast to the "regular" El Niño phenomenon,
it was less predictable. Exceptionally warm water along the coast of northern Peru triggered torrential rain affecting over 1.7 million people; almost a third were children and adolescents. This resulted in flooding and landslides,
which killed more than 150 people and caused US$3 billion worth of damage.2 Over 210,000 homes were taken away by the floods or severely damaged, leaving thousands of people homeless. Affected communities, most of them extremely
poor, lost their livelihoods and means to provide food for their families. Agriculture had been the main source of income for most of the communities impacted. The country’s infrastructure was also hit hard. More than 260
bridges collapsed and almost 3,000 km of roads were destroyed, cutting off hundreds of villages and towns.
9. Central African Republic
In the heart of Africa but off the radar
Unknown to many and largely under-developed, the Central African Republic (CAR) has been suffering from recurring outbreaks of violent clashes. Inter-communal tensions are fuelled by armed groups and political turmoil. About 2.5 million people, more than half of the population, are in need of aid and desperate for food.
The situation has deteriorated massively since the beginning of 2017, with nearly 70 per cent of the country now being controlled by armed groups. In particular, attacks against women and children have increased drastically. By September
2017, a total of 1.1 million people were displaced – this is a sad new record in CAR. Since the beginning of the conflict, nearly 600,000 people fled their homes and about 512,000 sought shelter in neighbouring countries,
such as Cameroon, Chad or the Democratic Republic of Congo.
8. Lake Chad Basin
At the crossroads between conflict,
hunger and displacement
Eleven million people in the Lake Chad Basin region (North Cameroon, West Chad, South-East Niger and North-East Nigeria) – have seen their lives threatened and their chances for survival decreased over the last years. Eight years of conflict and ongoing attacks related to Boko Haram has meant lost lives and livelihoods, abandoned homes and villages, and deserted farmland, crippling large parts of the Lake Chad Basin.
Half of the population needs urgent humanitarian assistance. And the situation is getting worse every day: The number of displaced people has tripled in the past two years to 2.4 million people. Most are sheltered by communities already
poor and struggling themselves. Continued cycles of displacement, limited access to the most vulnerable people, and insufficient basic services worsen the situation, increasing people’s need for aid and protection. Lack of
food has reached critical levels. A total of 7 million people and almost half a million children are acutely malnourished.
A destructive typhoon in
the shadows of many
©CARE/Le Huyen Trang
©CARE/Le Huyen Trang
Although considered the most powerful storm in a decade, little is known about Typhoon Doksuri, the tenth storm to affect Vietnam in 2017. The powerful typhoon tore a destructive path through seven central provinces in Vietnam in September, flooding hundreds of thousands of homes, whipping off roofs and knocking out power.
According to authorities, 14 people were killed, 112 injured and four others went missing. Doksuri caused widespread rainfall and left about 1.5 million people without power. Homes, schools, public buildings, as well as river and sea
banks were extremely damaged. Over 11,000 hectares of rice fields and other crops were ruined following heavy downpours unleashed by the typhoon, affecting the livelihoods of local farmers. Government and aid agencies were able to
quickly assist communities and restored most of the damaged infrastructure, including powerlines and communications systems.
Trapped in a vicious circle of aid
dependency and malnutrition
More than five years have passed since the escalation of conflict in northern Mali. However, insecurity persists in northern and central parts of the country and progress towards an improvement of the humanitarian situation has stagnated. The resurgence of inter-communal violence and clashes between armed groups in 2017 triggered renewed displacements and disrupted the lives of thousands of people. Many crisis-affected communities solely depend on humanitarian assistance and still struggle to access food, water, healthcare, education and work. In regions where fighting occurred, women reported cases of physical, psychological and sexual violence.
With limited progress in the implementation of the Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali (known as the Bamako Agreement) and weak government structures, the humanitarian needs are dire. People still lack access to basic social
services, such as health clinics, and disease outbreaks pose a major risk. Despite some slow returns, over 52,000 Malians remain internally displaced and more than 140,000 refugees are in neighbouring countries where they try to
survive in remote refugee camps in the desert.
Republic of Congo
A silent humanitarian tsunami
After more than two decades of violence, for many children in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), conflict and war is all they have known. A surge in violence and inter-communal tensions across the country forced more than 1.7 million people to flee their homes in 2017, an average of more than 5,500 people per day.
More than 4 million Congolese are now displaced, with 620,000 of them seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. Almost 2 million children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition, making up 12 per cent of the world’s acutely
malnourished children. On top of this, few Congolese have access to clean water. Outbreaks of diseases, including cholera, measles and malaria, affect tens of thousands of people every year. The effect of escalating conflict has
restricted DRC’s economic growth and increased inflation means people can buy less with whatever money they have.
13 years of war and hunger
Over a decade of conflict, chronic poverty and climatic shock have put almost 5 million people on the edge of survival in Sudan. For the past 13 years, dire humanitarian needs, particularly in the western province of Darfur, have persisted. Many families are facing extreme hunger. At the end of 2017, more than 2 million children were suffering. In addition, the country regularly suffers from floods and droughts.
In addition, over 460,000 refugees from the Republic of South Sudan have put additional strain on Sudan’s fragile economy. About 185,000 refugees fled from violence in South Sudan to seek aid and shelter in neighbouring Sudan
in 2017 alone. A total of 88 per cent of the refugees are women and children. But while Sudan is sought as a safe haven by people from neighbouring South Sudan, the country itself equally suffers from violence, malnutrition, lack
of food and access to basic services. As a result, 2.3 million Sudanese are displaced in their own country.
Persecution and violence fuelling
a humanitarian crisis
With political unrest and significant human rights concerns persisting, the crisis in Burundi enters its fourth year. Over 400,000 people, half of them children, have fled from the violence and dire humanitarian conditions to seek safety in neighbouring countries.
Almost 200,000 people remain displaced inside Burundi. They face food shortages and a lack of basic services, such as health care, water, sanitation and food. Reports indicate that over 2.6 million people – 27 per cent of the
country's population – do not know how to feed their families. The country is experiencing rising food prices resulting from economic and agricultural decline and disruption of markets and trade. Severe weather conditions,
including drought and floods, also led to an exceptionally bad harvest in 2017.
"I can admire the beauty of life."
Read her story...
Fleeing drought and repression
©CARE/Johanna Wynn Mitscherlich
©CARE/Johanna Wynn Mitscherlich
Isolated and off the media radar, Eritrea hardly ever makes the major news headlines. When it does, it is often related to border tensions, human rights abuses or Eritrean refugees drowning in the Mediterranean. Widely cut off from the outside world, media and aid organisations have very limited access to the East African country.
More than 700,000 people are suffering from the ongoing drought, lack of food and water shortages. This is compounding an already dire situation caused by the dry spells of the weather phenomenon El Niño, which started two years
ago. About 80 per cent of the population, almost 3.6 million people, depends on subsistence agriculture with women and children particularly at risk of malnutrition and disease. Children are likely to suffer long-term consequences.
If babies and their mothers do not receive the nutrients they need, their physical and cognitive development can be severely hampered. Half of all children in Eritrea are stunted and cannot achieve their full mental and physical
potential, simply because they do not have enough food to develop and grow. In addition, sexual and gender-based violence, including female genital mutilation, remains a dangerous reality for many women and girls.
1. Democratic People’s
Republic of Korea
Life under oppression and hunger
Although North Korea (officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) has been in the news for nuclear and political tensions, little is known about the country’s humanitarian situation.
The UN estimates that 18 million people – 70 per cent of the population – are food-insecure and rely on government food aid. Furthermore, two in five North Koreans are undernourished. The impacts of the country’s
political regime together with global warming and frequent natural hazards, such as floods, rising temperatures or prolonged droughts, exacerbate the dire humanitarian situation. In July 2017, North Korea experienced the worst drought
since 2001. Below-average rainfall in key areas for crop production severely disrupted planting activities and damaged the 2017 main season crops. As a result, people urgently require food – particularly nutritious food –
medical and health services, water and sanitation facilities.
What can we do?
Seven steps to help shine a light on forgotten crises
With so many different types of disasters and conflicts that are hardly covered in the media and discussed in this report the question remains: What can or should be done about human suffering around the world? Some of the obstacles are well known. Aid agencies need safe access to crisis-affected areas, more funding, and the space to work together.
The importance of media coverage and public awareness to help mobilise funds and increase pressure on decision-makers has been proven again and again. Still, the question on how to ensure better coverage of under-reported crises remains largely unaddressed. So what is needed? Seven equally important steps are crucial now:
1. Media access
While humanitarian access remains high on the agenda of most aid organisations to secure safe passage for staff and relief supplies, security and access also remain key challenges for journalists. Attacks on press freedom and violence against journalists and other media workers have increased in recent years. According to the latest numbers in the Index on Censorship, the media is facing an unprecedented wave of hostility. The study found over 1,000 verified reports of violence, threats or violations throughout the EU and neighbouring countries alone. Press freedom is essential to shine a light on issues that would otherwise be forgotten. Just as it is important to respect the neutrality of aid workers, it is vital to allow reporters to cover stories with full access and safety. Humanitarian agencies are in a unique position to facilitate media access to hard-to-reach areas. The international community also needs to hold to account those who block press freedom and put the lives of journalists at risk.
2. Reporting outside the box
Raising awareness and drawing attention to crises and disasters is vital in order to secure the funding needed to help. But often increased coverage is not enough to trigger political action. Large-scale emergencies, such as in Syria or Yemen, belong to the most-reported crises in 2017. Still, the crisis in Syria is entering its eighth year and the conflict in Yemen has escalated. With numerous crises competing for space in the headline news all at the same time, often only those with the largest figures or most shocking facts make it. This is why it is important to look for angles that are outside the norm. Not only does this help differentiate the complexities and uniqueness of each crisis, it also prevents the formation of simplistic stereotypes that can quickly lead to donor and “compassion fatigue.” This also means that the media needs to communicate such differences and unique solutions, and continue to provide an accurate picture of the humanitarian needs on the ground.
3. Funding foreign reporting
Amid the increasing funding needs for people placed in the line of conflict or suffering from chronic crises, financial woes also pose a major threat to the news industry. With claims and counterclaims about “fake news” on the rise and sensationalism dictating news consumption, independent journalism is at great risk. Although dwindling news budgets lead to less investments in foreign coverage, particularly in the Global South, news outlets have a moral responsibility in telling stories that may be challenging to cover. Declining revenue is often the culprit for the demise of humanitarian reporting in low-interest countries. To fight this trend, it is not only crucial for readers to support their favourite media outlet but also for aid agencies and donors to support crisis reporting. An example for this could be for aid agencies and other actors to increase offering press visits to emergency-affected areas, providing logistical support for freelance journalists, capturing raw footage for news coverage or supporting training for journalists.
Using the media monitoring services of Meltwater Group, CARE International analysed those humanitarian crises that received the least amount of media attention in 2017. More than 1.2 million online articles were monitored from 1 January to 22 December 2017.
To filter according to scale, we chose those countries in which at least one million people were affected by natural or man-made disasters. The result was a list of almost 40 crises that were analysed and ranked by the number of articles mentioning each. This report lists the 10 most under-reported crises in reverse order, number one being the most under-reported. The overall number of people affected by each emergency derived from UN OCHA’s Global Humanitarian Needs Overview, Reliefweb, ACAPS, and CARE. Countries that were affected by the same crisis were grouped together into one emergency. The analysis that underpins the report is drawn from coverage in English, German and French outlets given their broad reach, and to maximize the English analysis service commonly offered by most global media companies. With additional resources, CARE hopes to widen the scope and look at significant coverage in other languages, for example, Chinese, Arabic and Spanish. Though not universal in scope, the report represents a contribution to a broader, global discussion with the ultimate aim to promote awareness and to deliver humanitarian aid to those in need.
About CARE International
Founded in 1945, CARE International works around the globe to save lives, defeat poverty and achieve social justice. We put women and girls in the centre because we know that we cannot overcome poverty until all people have equal rights and opportunities.
CARE International works in 93 countries around the world to assist more than 63 million people improve basic health and education, fight hunger, increase access to clean water and sanitation, expand economic opportunity, confront climate change, and recover from disasters.
To learn more, visit: www.care-international.org