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Suffering in silence

30th October 2018
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Do animals really have a Sixth Sense?
23rd October 2018
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Independent volunteers form the backbone of Indonesia’s tsunami response
6th November 2018

10 natural disasters and humanitarian crises which went unreported

T he 2018 Indonesian tsunami garnered widespread media coverage worldwide, as indeed it should have. But what of the countless natural disasters and humanitarian crises which go unreported?

A report by CARE International last year suggested that millions of people suffered in 2016 but that few were aware of their plight.

The aid organisation reportedly analysed the media coverage – across more than 250,000 media platforms in French, English and German - that was given to natural disasters and conflicts that year. It identified 10 nations – mainly in Africa - which were most underreported, as below:

1. Eritrea

Little is known about Eritrea, a country almost completely cut off from the outside world. Journalists and aid workers have no access to humanitarian data and many major aid organisations such as CARE International are not allowed to provide relief to affected people. According to UN estimates, about two million people are without adequate food supplies in this semi-arid country. Eritrea has been hit hard by the dry spells of El Niño. Women and children’s survival is most at risk and acute malnutrition is one of the major underlying causes of death. Half of all children in Eritrea are stunted and cannot achieve their full mental and physical potential, simply because they go hungry. They are likely to suffer long-term consequences which will hamper their cognitive and physical growth.

Ongoing conflict, slow economic growth and life-long mandatory military service force many people to flee Eritrea. The UN estimates that 5,000 Eritreans leave their country each month, many of them so desperate for a better life, they risk taking the perilous route across the Sahara and the Mediterranean Sea. Eritreans constitute one of the largest groups of refugees in Europe and Africa.

2. Burundi

Starting in 2015, the political violence in Burundi has left three million people in need of humanitarian assistance. An estimated 130,000 people are internally displaced and over 300,000 people left their home to seek safety in neighbouring countries. More than two million people do not know how to feed their families as the country experiences rising food prices while poor rains affected last year’s harvest. Conflict and displacement hinder farmers to tend to their fields and women and girls to access crucial basic social services, including health care, nutrition support, water and sanitation. Half a million pregnant and breast-feeding women need urgent nutritional support.

3. Madagascar

A vicious combination of consecutive years of drought and the El Niño climatic cycle has withered corn, cassava and rice fields, leaving almost 1.5 million people in southern Madagascar dependent on emergency aid.5 Over 330,000 people there face severe hunger and are classified as being in an “emergency phase” – just one step away from the official famine level. Eight in ten affected people are farmers who face depleted food stocks. Families are forced to sell their assets, reduce their number of meals per day and migrate to search for alternative incomes. One quarter of all children under the age of five in Grand Sud, the main affected area, are stunted. This will impact cognitive and mental growth for the rest of their lives. Girls spend many hours per day fetching water, leaving them without an opportunity to attend school.

The people of Andranogoa village in southern Madagascar have been living in arid misery for the last two years. For the main harvest season of 2015/2016 farmers lost almost all of their crops due to the lack of rain resulting from El Niño.

4. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

What we know about North Korea is limited to sporadic news about nuclear tests and the country’s authoritarian rule. Very little information is available about the 18 million people – 70 per cent of the population - who do not have enough to eat. Among them are more than two million children and pregnant and lactating women who are at risk of malnutrition, a severe threat to the survival of mothers and children under five. Very few international organisations are allowed to provide relief in North Korea and international journalists are rarely granted access to report from inside the country. North Korea is prone to recurring disasters such as droughts, floods and storms. The previous two years were abnormally dry, decreasing crop production by over 20 per cent from 2014 to 2015. Typhoon Lionrock wreaked havoc in August, causing destructive floods and affecting more than 600,000 people.

5. Lake Chad Basin

The humanitarian situation in the four countries bordering Lake Chad – Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria - has deteriorated tremendously over the past years. According to the UN, the long-running violence and military counter-offensives have affected 21 million people across the Lake Chad Basin and left nearly half of the region’s population - 9.2 million people - in critical need of aid.

More than six million people face severe hunger. In Nigeria, at least 55,000 people experienced famine in some of the areas completely cut off from humanitarian support. Many Nigerians fleeing violence and hunger have found shelter with host families in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger which are amongst the poorest countries in the world. In addition to ongoing drought and recurring flash floods, taking in refugees - not just from Nigeria but also from other conflict regions in the Central African Republic and Sudan - stretches host families’ resources to the limit. Violent attacks by armed groups have spilled over the borders into each country, leaving fields and markets abandoned by frightened farmers and cattle breeders. Many displaced women and girls reported violent sexual attacks, and young boys are constantly afraid of being forcibly recruited to engage in the conflict.

6. Democratic Republic of Congo

Many children and adolescents living in the Democratic Republic Congo (DRC) know nothing but conflict. The country has been in a state of humanitarian crisis for more than two decades and the recent upsurge in violence in 2016 leaves little hope for a peaceful transition in the near future. A toxic cocktail of constant fighting between numerous armed groups, droughts due to the El Niño climatic cycle and the influx of refugees from neighbouring countries such as Burundi, the Central African Republic and South Sudan have exacerbated the dire living conditions for many families. Reaching people in need in the DRC is challenging as the security situation varies widely and certain areas are virtual ‘no-go’ zones for aid workers. More than seven million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, struggling to survive violence, epidemics, malnutrition and natural disasters. Every day, women and girls live in fear of sexual violence.

7. Bangladesh

Every year the Bangladesh monsoon brings torrential rain and floods. What was once a welcomed natural cycle for farmers has become a dreaded event since climate change has intensified annual rainfall. Women and girls are particularly affected by flooding as many cannot swim. They are also often not allowed to leave their homes due to cultural barriers and they are more likely to experience violence, psychosocial difficulties, malnutrition and a lack of economic or educational opportunities.

In 2016, the floods affected more than four million people, destroying homes, fields and livelihoods. Families were in urgent need of food, drinking water, latrines, shelter and health support. Monoara Begum’s was one of them. After her husband abandoned the family, leaving the 40-year old responsible for her three children, she was transformed from housewife to crop farmer. Initially she was doing well, cooking three meals a day for her family. Then, in July, floods destroyed her house, washed away her crops, ducks and goats, and left her water-supply contaminated.

8. Papua New Guinea

In 2016, El Niño affected more than 60 million people across the globe. El Niño is the world’s biggest weather phenomenon, happening every few years when warm water collected in the western Pacific move back eastwards, affecting rain patterns and temperatures worldwide. In Papua New Guinea, El Niño brought a major drought and repeated frosts at high altitudes, wiping out crops and drying out water sources in a country where 80 per cent of the population depend on farming. As a result, more than 1.4 million people went hungry.

9. Central African Republic

The country lying in the heart of Africa is unknown to many. Despite its richness in natural resources, the Central African Republic has remained largely underdeveloped and suffers conflict, the latest erupting in 2013. More than two million people, almost half of the population, are in desperate need of food and humanitarian assistance. Aid workers often can’t reach those in need as they are regularly attacked by the various armed groups who roam the country. This is a severe violation of International Humanitarian Law that should guarantee the safety of humanitarian workers and supplies.

More than 380,000 people were forced to flee their homes since the beginning of the conflict, seeking shelter in other parts of the country or in neighbouring countries, such as Cameroon, Chad or the Democratic Republic of Congo.

10. Sudan

In several areas of Sudan, including Darfur, conflict has been raging for over a decade, putting almost six million people on the edge of survival today. Many are facing extreme hunger. More than two million children are acutely malnourished. In addition, the country faces regular floods and droughts.

Almost three million Sudanese are displaced within their country and many others have sought safety in neighbouring states. At the same time, a quarter of a million South Sudanese have fled to Sudan to escape the violence that has ensnarled their own country for the past three years.

After the conflict erupted in Jabal Marra in Darfur, 19-year old Aisha fled to a camp for displaced people with her two young children. She was safe yet had no income. When her 11-month old daughter Fatima became malnourished she had no money to take her to the hospital. Aisha’s desperate situation turned when a camp leader brought her to a CARE International supported feeding centre, where Fatima recovered within a week.