High Commissioner António Guterres exchanging views on peace, security and humanitarian assistance with residents of Dongo, Equateur province, northwestern Democratic Republic of Congo. / UNHCR / C. Schmitt / July 2010
The 5 most under-reported humanitarian crises that are happening right now
President Trump started dominating the American news cycle before he was even elected, and the soap opera that has unfolded from his twitter feed alone since then has kept headlines and newsrooms constantly focused on his unpredictable behavior. I assumed that a few months after the election, the drama would eventually subside and a new version of political normalcy would take place, making room for a wider variety of breaking news. It didn’t really.
A friend and colleague, Sulome Anderson, who has been covering the middle east as a foreign correspondent for the last seven years, told me that after the elections she began having so much trouble getting editors to accept pitches not directly related to Trump’s antics that she closed up shop all together and is focusing on writing her next book on domestic issues.
This anecdote speaks to a larger media trend. With a disproportionate amount of news squarely focused on one person in the United States, what stories are being pushed from the headlines?
A report from a major global NGO offers some insights into one area where important stories are being largely ignored: humanitarian crises.
Using the media monitoring services of Meltwater Group, the humanitarian group CARE analyzed global online news coverage (in English, French and German) of all 39 natural or manmade disaster affecting at least 1 million people in 2017, then listed the 10 disasters receiving the least media coverage.
According to that metric, these were the five most under-reported crises of 2017, and they are still happening right now.
1 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
North Korea has stayed in the global spotlight for increasing political tensions and weapons testing and has long been regarded as one of the repressive authoritarian states in the world. Kim Jong Un is known for his ability to generate fearful obedience from his citizens with a creative array of horrific threats; from forced labor in harsh and sometimes fatal conditions to executions. But what has been drastically underreported in the last year is that unprecedented number of people who are going hungry. The UN estimates that 70 percent of the population, or 18 million people, are food-insecure and reliant on government aid. To make things worse, last year North Korea experienced its worst drought in 16 years, exacerbating an already dire food shortage. With tight control of its borders keeping out aid organizations and journalists, it’s almost impossible to capture how many are actually receiving the urgent food aid they need.
Geographically isolated and bordered by two countries infamous for famine and conflict, the East African country of Eritrea rarely makes headlines. When it does, it’s commonly in relation to border tensions. What isn’t making headlines is that over 700,000 Eritreans are in crisis struggling to feed themselves and their families, marking the severity of a prolonged drought catalyzed by El Niño two years ago. Over half of all children in Eritrea today are stunted, a sign they are not getting the nutrients they need to cognitively and physically develop in order to live healthy and productive lives. Additionally, widespread gender-based violence including rape and female genital mutilation leaves women and girls disempowered and living in fear. Conscription into military service serves as a pretext for population control and enslavement. Because of the desperate state of the country, over 400,000 migrants have left their home country in the past decade, making Eritreans one of the largest groups of refugees in Europe and Africa.
Struggling to emerge from a 12 year ethnic-based civil war, political unrest has sponsored sever economic instability devastating those living in the central African country. The future political state of Burundi as the current leader, President Nkurunziza, has indicated he intends to run again in 2020, potentially extending his term 14 years. Opposition forces and civilians are bracing for even more violence in response to this possibility. Over 2.2 million people currently are not able to sufficiently feed their families. The country is experiencing rising food prices resulting from economic and agricultural decline and disruption of markets and trade. The ripple effect of lack of basic services and food shortages extends into massive health issues, like the outbreak of malaria in 2017 that infected over 6.6 million people with 2,875 deaths reported in the first eight months of the epidemic. Persecution and violence have driven over 400,000 people to seek refuge in neighboring countries. Over 200,000 people remain displaced inside Burundi.
The genocide in Darfur may be a historical event no longer worthy of headlines, but the impact of 13 years of war now leaves over 5 million people on the edge of survival. As climate change exacerbates agriculture conditions, the country also faces droughts and floods, making it even harder for people to feed their families. The current fuel crisis has driven the cost gallon of gasoline up to over 140 Sudanese pounds ($7.70) a diesel gallon on the black market, leaving farmers without fuel to power water pumps necessary for irrigation. Power outages from scarcity of fuel are paralyzing daily life in parts of the country as well.
5 Democratic Republic of Congo
With over 120 armed groups currently operated in Eastern DRC alone, recent reports state over 4.5 million people are currently displaced inside the Congo. Political instability and clashes between soldiers and militia continue to escalate, a result of presidential elections that were scheduled for November of 2017 have been repeatedly postponed. Like many humanitarian crises, this lack of stability burdens women and children most. Rape is often used as a weapon of war, and reports from the field show over 2 million children are suffering from acute malnutrition.