The World's Underreported Humanitarian Crises

3 Feb 2020 by Staff - Water Diplomat
GENEVA, Switzerland

An annual assessment of global online media coverage of "underreported" humanitarian crises, many related to water challenges, indicates increasing linkage between such events and man-made climate change.

Humanitarian agency CARE International launched its fourth such analysis 28 January, examining 40 disasters and conflicts that have affected at least a million people to determine which are the most under-reported.

In 2019, nine out of 10 global under-reported crises occurred in Africa reflecting the challenges countries and NGOs face in generating media attention for protracted crises in the region. North Korea is also on the list. The report includes crises related to natural disasters (bush fires, floods, earthquakes, floods) and those brought on by competition for natural resources that may result in food insecurity, conflict, and displacement.

“We’re seeing increasing linkages between the effects of man-made climate change and the longevity and complexity of humanitarian crises. From Madagascar to Lake Chad to North Korea, the majority of crises ranked in our report are partly a consequence of declining natural resources, increasing extreme weather events and global warming more broadly”, said Sally Austin, CARE International’s Head of Emergency Operations.

“The increased public attention for the global climate crisis is encouraging, but we must ensure that the conversation is not limited to the Global North and much-needed transformations there. It is shocking to see how little media reporting there is about human suffering related to global warming in the South, the lack of political action to address this injustice, and solutions applied to ease the burden for communities".

CARE International suggests that in some countries a constant state of crisis is the new norm, exacerbating other challenges and leading to “crisis reporting fatigue”.

In the report “Suffering in Silence”, CARE reinforced the challenge countries face in generating media attention. Drawing on online media published in English, French, German, Spanish and Arabic, the research derived a database that contains over 2.4 million articles from which CARE identified those crises that have been struggling to gain global attention.

Of the top ten underreported crises, most relate to water challenges and seven have been listed by CARE before, while new to the list are Burkina Faso, Kenya, and Zambia.

Rachel Routley, humanitarian and emergency response coordinator for CARE Australia, commented that the predominance of African countries may reflect a number of reasons ranging from media access (virtually none in DPR Korea) to relative freedom of the press (better in Africa than in Asia or the Middle East) to newsrooms budgets and audience interest.

The top ten under-reported humanitarian crises of 2019 on CARE International’s list are:

  • Madagascar where 2.6 million people have been affected by the impacts of drought
  • Central African Republic where conflict has caused over 600,000 internal displacement and an additional 600,000 to seek refuge from conflict in neighbouring countries.
  • Zambia where 2.3 million people are in urgent need of food assistance as a result of rising temperatures and recurring and prolonged droughts.
  • Burundi where prolonged political insecurity and high levels of poverty create a fragile environment to address natural disasters, population movements, malaria epidemics and the risk of Ebola.
  • Eritrea where a severe drought in 2019 following an above average dry year in 2018 now worsens the situation as further crop failures lead to food insecurity and malnourishment in wide parts of the population. Nomadic communities are especially vulnerable to natural disasters such as drought and flooding during rainy seasons.
  • DPR Korea where approximately 11 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance for basic food, health, water, sanitation and hygiene needs. According to UN estimates about 43 percent of the population is undernourished as food production fails to meet requirements due to lack of modern equipment and cyclical heatwaves, droughts and floods.
  • Kenya where more than 1.1 million people live without regular access to food and more than 500,000 children under five are in need of treatment for malnutrition. Continuing dry conditions have led to the deterioration of livestock and crop productivity, higher food prices and a decrease of water. Agricultural production has halved according to estimates. When there is not too little rainfall, there is far too much.
  • Burkina Faso which has been marked by years of protracted political instability resulting from security challenges, a power vacuum, weak governance and the presence of armed groups. Additionally, the country is extremely poor and suffers from high levels of economic inequality and agricultural deficits largely due to insecurity.
  • Ethiopia which faced multiple challenges in 2019: there was a drought in the eastern and south-eastern parts of the country, localised flooding, as well as the significant humanitarian and recovery needs of internally displaced people, refugees, returnees and host communities.
  • The Lake Chad Basin (including Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria) has faced 10 years of conflict and violence, poverty, hunger, displacement while the sinking water levels of the lake have led to nearly 10 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. In Chad, about 657,000 displaced are in need of help. In addition, thousands of refugees from the Central African Republic and from Sudan have sought refuge in Chad.