Conflict escalated in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State in August 2017, resulting in the displacement of more than 700,000 people to neighbouring Bangladesh. At the time, the UN referred to this as the "world's fastest growing refugee crisis". Photo: NRC/Ingrid Prestetun

Why some crises are neglected

Thale Jenssen|Published 07. Jun 2018
Why do some humanitarian crises receive attention and support, while others are ignored?

On June 7, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) launched this year’s list of the top ten countries that the world has neglected. These crises receive little media attention and are disregarded by political actors and donors – those who can come up with solutions and necessary funding. Why do this happen?

Lack of political will

“It’s often a lack of political will. The countries on the list are often considered less strategically important, and that’s why there’s no international interest in finding a solution. For example, this is the case in The Central African Republic,” says Tiril Skarstein. She is a team leader in NRC, and is one of the contributors of this year’s list of the most neglected displacement crises.

Skarstein explains that in some countries the opposite is the case, where there are many actors with conflicting political interests taking part in the conflict. That is the case of Yemen and Palestine, where political gains are put before the lives of civilians.

The lack of political will to work towards a solution is only one of three criteria on which a crisis is measured by before ending up on the list. The other two criteria are the lack of media attention and a lack of funding towards humanitarian aid.

Lack of media attention

Why is the media focusing its attention towards some crises instead of others?

“This is, amongst other things, about the proximity of the conflict – the closer we get to a crisis, the more attention we pay towards it. It’s also easier to identify with the affected people. Proximity and identification are two very important news criteria,” says Skarstein.

An example of this is the so-called European refugee crisis in 2015.

“When we saw an influx of refugees coming towards Europe, it also led to media interest in the countries the refugees were fleeing, like we saw with Syria. When we know someone who fled a conflict, we are more likely to care.”

Another reason for the lack of media attention is that journalists have a hard time gaining access to some of the countries on the list. This also leads to a crisis gaining less attention.

Lack of funding

In addition to the lack of political will and media attention, many of the crises also struggle with obtaining funds towards humanitarian aid.

“Crises that are given little international attention and are seldom mentioned in the media, are also often declined the financial support needed to meet severe humanitarian needs,” says Skarstein.

The amount of media attention paid towards a crisis is a very poor indicator of which areas are in most need of aid.

“Emergency relief should be granted based on needs, but unfortunately it is easier to obtain emergency relief funds for crises that receive a lot of attention from politicians and the media,” Skarstein continues.

Africa on top of the list

Humanitarian needs are high in the top three countries on this year's list: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

“This year, like last year, the top five countries on the list are in Africa. We have observed a tendency of crises on the African continent attracting less attention than others. Many of the affected people will never have the opportunity to flee to Europe or the US, and most of them are staying in their own country or flee to relatively poor neighbouring countries. Sadly, it seems that the people affected by these crises are often considered ‘out of sight, out of mind,’” says Skarstein.

Over the last year, the situation in several of the African countries on the list has deteriorated significantly. The Central African Republic was on top of the list last year. This year the country has fallen to third place, despite the fact that more people have been displaced in the last year.

“It's simply that conflicts are getting worse in all these three countries,” Skarstein explains.

“In DR Congo, we’ve seen conflict flare up in two new areas, Kasaï and Tanganyika. This comes on top of the protracted conflicts in eastern Congo which have deteriorated. Millions of people were displaced last year without the international community really noticing. I think many people will be surprised to learn that there are as many people in need in DR Congo now as in Syria. Media coverage does not reflect that.

The crises must not be forgotten

The most important thing for these countries now is that political solutions are put in place. It's the only way to end the suffering.

There is also a need for emergency relief. In order to create political solutions, we must first meet the most urgent needs for assistance. Empty stomachs and lack of work and opportunities to feed the family is not a good starting point for peace and stability.

“We make this list to remind ourselves, and others, that some crises need more attention. Only then can we create change. We need to make sure that we talk more about these crises. That we work for the affected people to be heard. And that we work for emergency relief to be provided based on needs, not just where it is easiest to get funds for.”