The news that’s not used: Beyond the headlines of 6 forgotten humanitarian crises

January 15, 2021

Based on humanitarian data from the European Commission Joint Research Centre and UNOCHA’s 2021 Global Humanitarian Overview, here are 6 forgotten humanitarian crises. 

There is no shortage of humanitarian emergencies in 2021. But for many crises, the issues remain long after the news cameras leave — if they ever show up in the first place. 

These are the stories that fell off the front page as they became more complex, and stories that have yet to make it to the front page at all. More importantly: They are, in the end, emergencies that affect millions of people. Based on humanitarian data from the European Commission Joint Research Centre and UNOCHA’s 2021 Global Humanitarian Overview, here are 6 forgotten humanitarian crises. 

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1. Central African Republic: A forgotten conflict gains new urgency

Since 2012, a protracted conflict has gripped the Central African Republic. While UN officials view the situation as “stable,” that has only led to the CAR becoming one of the world’s forgotten humanitarian crises. In 2021, UNOCHA estimates that 2.8 million Central Africans — more than 50% of the population — will require humanitarian assistance and protection. The UN adds: “In the past five years, there have never been as many people in humanitarian distress in the Central African Republic as today.” 

Like many other countries, COVID-19 has contributed to a worsening humanitarian situation, creating economic losses and rising food insecurity. Violent conflict also continues to affect the nation, which is roughly the size of Texas. One in four Central Africans have been displaced due to violence, either internally or as refugees in neighboring countries. Those who remain in-country face additional threats like gender-based violence (with a new incident reported every hour), forced labor and conscription for children, and a shortage of basic needs including water, food, and education. 

2. Burkina Faso: A center of the Sahel crisis

Taken as a whole, the humanitarian crisis spread across the Sahel region of Africa is one of the world’s fastest-growing humanitarian crises with a number of factors contributing to dire conditions in 10 countries stretched across the southern border of the Sahara desert. 

Burkina Faso has, in the last few years, become one of the epicenters of this regional crisis. A rapid destabilization and rise in conflict has displaced at least 1 million people, if not more. Multiple factions have made finding safe and secure locations for civilians difficult, especially for women and girls who have experienced increases in gender-based violence. UNOCHA estimates that 2.9 million people need humanitarian assistance in-country. 

Things became more complicated in 2020 due to COVID-19 and its impacts on an already-weakened healthcare system (the World Health Organization estimates that over 300 healthcare centers were closed due to the conflict). Other worsening factors have included climate-change–induced drought, a lack of livelihood options for displaced Burkinans, and a looming hunger crisis with 2.1 million Burkinans facing acute food insecurity. In 2020, Burkina Faso ranked 90 out of 107 countries on Concern and Welthungerhilfe’s Global Hunger Index, with the country’s GHI score dropping by 43.5% compared to 2019. 

A mobile health clinic in Chad

Families wait to be seen by doctors at a Concern mobile clinic in the Lake Chad region. Some of these families walk for hours to reach healthcare. Concern is the only NGO providing these services in the region. (Photo: Gavin Douglas/Concern Worldwide)

3. Chad: A crossroads of humanitarian crises

The latest UN Human Development Index ranked Chad 187 out of 189 countries. With one out of every two Chadians vulnerable to the effects of climate change, forced migration, food insecurity, conflict, and health emergencies (including COVID-19), development is currently a stretch goal in a country caught in a complex crossroads of humanitarian crises. 

The Lake Chad Basin region is the site of armed violence and also suffers from historical marginalization and inequity that make ending poverty a difficult task. Drought in the area has reduced the lake’s size by 90% over the last 60 years. In 2020, extreme floods from the country’s rainy season have also had a cataclysmic effect on 20 out of the country’s 23 provinces and nearly half a million people. 

Chad is also, like many countries on this list, both a country of origin for many refugees and a host for many others. The Lake Chad region is a central community for those seeking refuge from Sudan, Nigeria, and the Central African Republic, a population especially vulnerable to the effects of the current pandemic.

4. Niger: Insecurity and flux

At the end of 2020, Niger was listed as one of the world’s most neglected displacement crises, with a 60% increase in humanitarian need in just one year. Insecurity in many regions of the country combined with the effects of the climate crisis have contributed to the country ranking last on the United Nations’ Human Development Index. The circumstances of Niger’s longstanding humanitarian crisis have been further exacerbated by COVID-19. That Niger is also a central point in Africa makes it a popular host community for refugee populations coming in from neighboring countries, despite limited resources. 

As of December 2020, 3.8 million Nigeriens were in need of humanitarian assistance, including 2 million children. Niger is an incredibly young country, yet 50% of its children are out of school, either due to displacement, conflict, inequality, or to help out with the family’s income. Violence in many regions also makes it difficult to get help where it’s needed most. 

5. Mozambique: Conflict enters its fourth year

Violence broke out in the north of Mozambique in 2017 which, left unchecked, has escalated into a conflict that has displaced half a million people. Many were forced to flee in recent months as insecurity in the region intensified. The New Humanitarian has also reported that shipwrecks associated with people escaping the conflict have killed dozens. 

Funding and access issues have made it even more difficult for aid to reach Mozambicans living in displacement, who are especially vulnerable to violence, hunger, disease, and weather patterns. Recent flooding in December 2020 damaged over 25 displacement sites, including the destruction of over 200 shelters. 

Displaced people at a camp in Mozambique

Leonardo Alfred (front left) and members of his family at a makeshift camp on the side of the N6 highway in Lamego, central Mozambique. Leonardo says his family was sleeping when suddenly they realized their house, which was made from mud, was filling up with water and starting to collapse during Cyclone Idai.

6. Madagascar: Drought, floods, and hunger

The last several years in Madagascar have seen consecutive droughts, along with the highest number of annual cyclones in Africa. These disasters included the devastating 2015 El Niño drought and 2019’s Cyclone Idai. At the beginning of 2021, the UN estimated that over 1 million people in the Grand Sud region of the country required immediate humanitarian assistance, including a growing crisis around food insecurity (exacerbated by years of poor harvests). 

For children, this food crisis not only means high rates of malnutrition, but also lower education rates, as the WFP reports that 75% of children in the country’s Amboasary district had dropped out of school to help their parents work and forage for food. While COVID-19 has also infected many in the country, a malaria outbreak has been an even higher concern, infecting over 1.5 million in the first half of 2020 alone. 

Concern’s emergency response to humanitarian crises

Last year, Concern responded to 82 emergencies in 21 countries, reaching over 11 million people. Not each of these emergencies was a full humanitarian crisis, but in each context our goal remains the same: fulfill our humanitarian mandate.

When an emergency strikes, we seek out the poorest and hardest-to-reach communities to meet their immediate needs, and work with them to design innovative, fast and effective responses. We stay with them to help rebuild their lives and to ensure that they are better able to cope with future crises. Your support allows us to do this vital work.

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