The 10 most under-reported humanitarian crises of 2020

Mary Mwiche, a farmer in Zambia who participated in CARE’s Southern African Nutrition Initiative (SANI)

In a year when the global coronavirus pandemic dominated the news, crises affecting millions around the world continue to be ignored.

CARE’s annual survey of the world’s most overlooked humanitarian crises shows that – despite the COVID-19 pandemic up-ending life as we know it – some things remain the same. Our report shows a concerning trend of crises being neglected year after year – particularly long-running crises in Africa.

This lack of media attention can mean that people affected by these crises don’t get the level of humanitarian support that they need.

World map showing 10 most under-reported crises of 2020

Six out of the 10 crises are located on the African continent. The Central African Republic has appeared in the ranking for five consecutive years. Both Madagascar and Burundi – the latter this year’s number 1 with the least media coverage – have made CARE’s list four times so far. This lack of attention adds to burdens such as the severe effects of COVID-19 restrictions and the growing impact of climate change in these countries.

The combined news coverage on these 10 crises was less than that of entertainer Kanye West’s bid for the US Presidency, or the Eurovision Song Contest. These 10 crises received 26 times less attention – in terms of online news articles – than the launch of PlayStation 5.2.

In mainstream news reporting, the global COVID-19 pandemic dominated headlines.

But for many millions of the world’s people, COVID-19 is simply an additional threat to a host of others – from the global climate crisis; to deadly diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV; to the unavailability of food and clean water; to conflict, violence and abuse.

For millions of people, COVID-19 has simply made a bad situation worse.

At the end of 2020, the United Nations (UN) estimated that at least 235.4 million people would need humanitarian assistance in 2021. The effects of COVID-19, coupled with the growing impacts of climate change, have increased the number of people in need by 40 percent – the single largest increase ever recorded in one year.

This historic level is accompanied by a marked decrease in bilateral development aid as donor governments attend to the economic and social fallout of COVID-19 in their own countries. As of December 2020, UN OCHA states that the humanitarian response plans and appeals for the past year were only 44.7 percent funded.

Delphine Pinault, CARE International’s Humanitarian Advocacy Coordinator and UN representative, says:

For so many people, especially women and girls, COVID-19 is just another threat on top of what they must face already. We must not be silent while the world ignores crises that started long before COVID-19 and yet still have not been addressed.

Recommendations: What can be done to raise attention for overlooked crises?

  • Donors: In the spirit of multilateralism, we urge donors to maintain, and where possible, increase their commitment to ensure that humanitarian needs are met everywhere, including in ‘forgotten crisis’; and we urge donors to fund local media organisations and journalists, including women-led and gender-focused media organisations and outlets that tell the story of how disproportionately women and girls are affected by crisis and how women-led organisations are on the frontline of the response.
  • Governments: Allow access for journalists, protect the lives of journalists and make it less dangerous for them to report the news. Between 2006 and 2019, close to 1,200 journalists were killed.
  • Aid organisations: Invest in media in ‘forgotten crisis’ and in the capacity of journalists, particularly local journalists, to report accurate, reliable and gender-sensitive information.
  • Media: International media should use the pandemic as an opportunity to change the current narrative and amplify local voices, with special attention to women and girls. Seek partnerships with local media organisations. They not only better understand the context, they also have better connections on the ground and can better report on how affected people are responding to crisis.

The 10 most under-reported crises

1. Burundi – scarcity of arable land and natural disasters drive hunger

2. Guatemala – COVID-19 has made a serious food crisis even worse

3. Central African Republic – ravaged by decades of armed conflict, rampant poverty, and an unending spate of natural disasters

4. Ukraine – civilians, particularly elderly and disabled people, bear the brunt of conflict

5. Madagascar – battered and bruised by the impacts of climate change

6. Malawi – suicides and child marriages on the rise as natural disasters and COVID-19 push an already stressed population to the brink

7. Pakistan – triple disaster of COVID-19, locust swarms and unprecedented levels of urban flooding

8. Mali – years of conflict, insecurity, climate shocks, natural disasters – and now COVID-19

A woman using a sewing machine to make face masks, Mali
A member of a Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) in Mali. CARE recruited professional tailors to provide training to VSLA members to support them to earn an income, and help combat the coronavirus, by making face masks.

9. Papua New Guinea – natural disasters, weak healthcare systems, economic collapse and price inflation

10. Zambia – extreme weather causing food shortages

Portrait of Marriett carrying her child, Zambia
At 23 years old, Marriet is already a leader in her community in Zambia. She heads the Water Point Management Committee, ensuring the water pump in her community is looked after and maintained so that they will always have access to clean water.

10 things we can do

  • Allow access for journalists
  • Address the critical funding gap
  • Invest in media relations
  • Put partners first
  • Invest in citizen journalism
  • Protect civic space and space for a free and independent media
  • Disrupt the narrative
  • Don’t expect excellent journalism for free
  • Go beyond the hashtag
  • Prioritise women

To read the report in full, including details of methodology, download the report from the CARE Insights website.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.