Suffering in Silence: As climate change intensifies, so too does humanitarian need

In 2019, over 51 million people suffered in 10 humanitarian crisis away from the public eye

By Shaughn McArthur, Policy and Influence Lead, CARE Canada

In 2019, a stock photo of an egg became the most-liked post on Instagram with almost 54 million likes.

Meanwhile, over 51 million people suffered in 10 humanitarian crisis away from the public eye. These forgotten crises are the focus of CARE’s fourth annual Suffering in Silence report.

Suffering in Silence analysed more than 2.4 million online media hits in five languages (Arabic, English, French, German, and Spanish) linked to crises in which at least one million people were affected by conflicts or man-made disasters.

The report finds Madagascar (612 articles), Central African Republic (976 articles), Zambia (1,377 articles), Burundi (1,469 articles), Eritrea (3,004 articles), DPR Korea (7,300 articles), Kenya (7,816 articles), Burkina Faso (8,219 articles), Ethiopia (9,083 articles), and the Lake Chad Basin (9,418 articles) to have received the least media attention.

At this rate of reporting, even the most prolific news junky might have overlooked the fact that 2.6 million people suffered from malnutrition in Madagascar last year. Or that an armed insurgency connected to the drying up of Lake Chad has left almost 10 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Cameroon, Chad, and Nigeria.

Media attention largely determines whether a crisis garners public empathy and galvanizes political will, or if it is left to fester beyond public perception.

The amount of media coverage about a crisis can determine how much funding it receives. Three of the 10 most under-reported crises in this report also appear on the UN’s list of most underfunded emergencies in 2019. This has direct impacts on the lives of crisis-affected people.

Media attention also affects how foreign policy priorities are formed.

This is particularly concerning given the fact that the majority of crises ranked in our report are partly a consequence of declining natural resources, increasing extreme weather events, and global warming more broadly. Crises linked to climate change are often slow-moving, recurrent, and protracted. Often when they do enter public discourse, the focus is on consequences such as people forced to flee their homes, violent extremism, and hunger.

As climate change intensifies, so too does humanitarian need: In 2020, around 2% of the global population (160 million people) will require USD $28.8 billion in humanitarian assistance to survive – a five-fold increase of needs since 2007.

We need to treat climate change as a root cause, and build human resilience, so that we can slow demands for emergency aid.

Politicians, media agencies, and development organizations like CARE all have a role to play, by casting light on human suffering and injustice in ways that inform public opinion – not just about the consequences of conflicts and natural disasters, but about sustainable, efficient, and long-term solutions.

That’s why Suffering in Silence calls upon governments to acknowledge that generating attention can be considered a form of aid in itself and that media and communications funds should be included in aid budgets. It also calls on politicians to lend their voice to the voiceless and to highlight crises that aren’t making the headlines.

The report also implores media to dig deeper and report the underlying causes of crises around the world, and to put a human face on the consequences and the solutions. Reporting both sides of a crisis means juxtaposing human suffering and injustice against the extraordinary ways in which people are coming together to help each other out and rebuild against daunting odds.

The same principle holds for humanitarian organizations. In an era in which many people feel overwhelmed by the complexity of world affairs, we need to keep sight of the fact that the vast majority of people around the world are doing better today than just a generation or two ago.

A better world is within reach. The task before us is to defend the remarkable development gains of the past decades and to eradicate the last frontiers of human suffering. The job is eminently achievable, with adequate political will. And the way we help global citizens understand the plight of the under-reported could go a long way.


Shaughn McArthur

Shaughn McArthur is CARE Canada’s Policy and Influence Lead


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