Lack of political will
“Often the countries that top our list are of little geopolitical interest to world powers. Last year’s top two countries – Cameroon and DR Congo – are chronic examples of this,” says Michelle Delaney, NRC media adviser who has been involved in preparing this year’s list.
“Investing political time and capital in resolving these emergencies will not reward the pockets of rich nations, so they use their resources elsewhere.”
In other conflicts, the opposite is the case: there are many actors with conflicting political interests, and no-one is willing to compromise. These are crises where the civilian population’s best interests have taken a back seat to political interests.
The lack of political will to find a solution to a crisis is one of three criteria that NRC uses when compiling its list of the world’s most neglected crises. The other two criteria are lack of media attention and lack of funding for humanitarian aid.
Lack of media attention
Why do the media choose to highlight some crises and not others?
“This is often tied to how much political attention a crisis gets – if that is lacking, the media may be less likely to cover a crisis,” explains Delaney.
“But physical closeness also plays a role. The media tend to cover crises that are closer to their front doors than those in far-off places. The latter can be harder to physically access, and often complicated to explain in 60-second news bulletins. Sadly, this means an out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality continues towards these forgotten emergencies.”
One example is the so-called migrant crisis of 2015, when a large number of refugees came to Europe. As a consequence, the European media became very interested in the countries that people had fled from, such as Syria. When we know someone who has fled from a crisis, we are more likely to care about it.
Lack of international aid
Every year, the United Nations and its humanitarian partners launch funding appeals to cover people’s basic needs in countries affected by large crises. But the extent to which these appeals are met varies greatly.
Crises that receive little international attention and little media coverage tend not to receive the financial support required to meet acute humanitarian aid needs.
The extent of the media coverage of a crisis is often a poor indicator of which areas are in the greatest need. Humanitarian aid should be given on the basis of need, but it’s often easier to obtain funding for crises that receive a lot of attention from politicians and the media.
Africa’s SOS calls fall on deaf ears
The humanitarian aid needs are great in all the countries on this year’s list, which will be released on 1 June. Several of the ten countries on the list are in central Africa.
“This culture of paralysis by the international community has to end. Every day the conflict is allowed to continue, bitterness is building and the region edges closer towards full-blown war,” said Jan Egeland, Secretary General of NRC, following a visit to Cameroon last year.
What can be done?
The most important thing for these countries now is to put political solutions in place. It’s the only way we can end the suffering.
There is also a need for acute humanitarian aid. To stand any chance at all of bringing about political solutions, we must take the first step of meeting the most acute needs for aid. Hungry stomachs, a lack of work and a lack of opportunities to feed your family do not make a good starting point for stability.
This year’s Neglected Crises List includes a list of recommendations. These are practical steps that different groups can take to improve the attention that neglected crises receive. Politicians, donors, journalists, humanitarian organisations and members of the public – we all have a part to play in ensuring the people at the heart of these crises get the help they so desperately need and deserve.