Suffering in silence: The crises that the world neglects

A woman from Nigeria who has found refuge in Nguel Kolo, a village in Eastern Niger

By Philippe Guiton, Humanitarian and Operations Director, CARE International

In 2016, we have seen numerous news-breaking humanitarian crises.

We watched civilians in besieged Aleppo sending heart-breaking pleas for rescue.

We followed in shock when yet another overloaded vessel full of desperate people sank in the Mediterranean Sea.

And we witnessed the meticulously documented military offensive to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul.

Yet these headlines were just the tip of an ever-growing humanitarian iceberg worldwide.

Underneath these rather visible crises lay many more that never made it into the news. From natural disasters to climate-related shocks, from conflict and displacement to persecution and marginalisation; crises come in all forms and affect many places, some of which we never hear about.

Farmer in Papua New Guinea
A farmer in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, where crops were devastated by a drought caused by El Niño

I have worked in the humanitarian field for over 30 years. Most of that time I spent in Africa. I have seen the crises that don’t make headlines. I have watched my friends and family raising that inevitable question “What is going on there?” when I tell them about the places where I delivered relief supplies. 

In our latest report Suffering in silence: The 10 most under-reported humanitarian crises of 2016 CARE International shows which disaster or crises received the least media attention in the year 2016. We researched over 30 natural disasters and ongoing conflicts that affected at least one million people and analysed how often they were mentioned in online news articles.

The disasters in the top 10 of our ranking were food crises in Eritrea, Madagascar, North Korea, Papua New Guinea; conflicts in Burundi, Lake Chad Basin, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Sudan; and monsoon floods in Bangladesh.

Many of these crises I have seen first-hand. In the last two years alone I visited Madagascar, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Chad.

I saw refugees who fled brutal fighting. I spoke to people who lost their crops due to El Nino’s dry spells.

This ranking is not meant to compare misery and suffering and place them on a scale. Each crisis and each human I met is unique and deserves all the support we can give.

People queuing for emergency supplies in Chad
People queuing for emergency supplies in Chad

What do we need to do aside from publishing reports and rankings?

As an aid organisation, CARE is driven to provide relief even in places where few others dare to go. Yet I believe that journalists have a social responsibility too. The media has the power to set agendas, hold politicians accountable and help raise crucial funds to deliver aid. Media attention and fundraising for humanitarian causes are closely intertwined. Watching people suffering on TV prompts many of us to engage and donate – this is widely known (in the USA at least) as “the CNN effect”.

Journalists need independent access to report from the ground. It is therefore no surprise that the humanitarian situation in two countries that rank the lowest in the World Press Freedom Index of Reporters without Borders – Eritrea and North Korea – are among the crises that received almost zero media attention in 2016.

In 2017, we face violent conflicts that are raging longer and longer. Poor families have to cope with typhoons, droughts and floods that are becoming stronger and happen more frequently.

Last year, the United Nations appealed for more humanitarian funds than ever before.

Yet money is no silver bullet. In many of today’s conflict zones CARE’s aid workers observe an increasing lack of respect for International Humanitarian Law, which enshrines the safety of civilians, humanitarian workers and supplies during times of war. Attacks against civilians and aid workers must stop to end human suffering.

Women and girls are hardest hit

As in most crises and disasters, women and girls are worst affected. They are the last to eat in times of drought, they often lack the physical strength to escape natural disasters and they face sexual violence during conflicts. Yet women and girls are not just the most affected – they are also powerful agents of change and we need to engage them meaningfully and address their needs directly in our humanitarian responses.

That's why CARE is inviting everyone who wants to see a more equal world to join us and #March4Women - find out more here

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We need to build up the capacities of local partners. Our ability to be one of the first and most efficient aid organisations to respond to a disaster or crisis is largely due to our long history of working with trusted local partners.

Yet the crux is this: world leaders must assume their responsibility to prevent and end conflict. Ultimately, they hold the power to find political solutions to end bloodshed and suffering. Politicians must step up their action and no longer neglect the many humanitarian crises around the world that they currently deliberately ignore, because they prefer to focus on the most visible emergencies to show their constituencies that they are acting.

CARE staff member with group of people in the DRC
A CARE staff member holds a small child in a camp for displaced people, North Kivu Province in Eastern DRC

CARE’s report aims to shine a rare spotlight on the humanitarian crises that have been ignored by the world. I am hopeful that we can raise the voices of those affected.

Every day, families across the world live in constant fear for their survival as bombs are dropping in their neighbourhood, as floods or drought destroy their fields and kill their cattle, as brutal attacks force them to leave their homes. They deserve to have their stories heard.

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