The Humanitarian Journalism project is seeking to better understand how the news media report on humanitarian crises and what shapes their coverage.

How do we decide which humanitarian crises are under-reported?

Martin Scott

February 17, 2017



By Martin Scott (@martinscott2010). According to the World Food Program, more than 20 million people risk dying from starvation within six months, in four separate famines. But as long as news attention is focussed elsewhere, these crises are unlikely to receive the support they need. Just yesterday, the UNHCR reported that, two months into the year, they have received less than 1% of the resources required for their work in Yemen.

Drawing attention to under-reported crises is important. But how do we decide which crises are most neglected? Below are four recent attempts to do this based variously on a survey of aid workers, absolute levels of media coverage and different assessments of levels of under-funding, humanitarian need and public awareness.

  1. Care international: Suffering in silence: The 10 most under-reported humanitarian crises of 2016. ‘We researched over 30 natural disasters and ongoing conflicts that affected at least one million people and analysed how often they were mentioned in online news articles… The disasters in the top 10 of our ranking were food crises in Eritrea, Madagascar, North Korea, Papua New Guinea; conflicts in Burundi, Lake Chad Basin, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Sudan; and monsoon floods in Bangladesh. This ranking is not meant to compare misery and suffering and place them on a scale. Each crisis… is unique and deserves all the support we can give’.
  2. Thomson Reuters Foundation: Lake Chad most neglected crisis in 2016 despite hunger on “epic scale”. ‘The humanitarian catastrophe in Lake Chad basin, where conflict has left over 8 million people destitute with many “teetering on the brink of famine”, was the most neglected crisis in 2016, according to a survey of aid agencies. Following Lake Chad in a Thomson Reuters Foundation poll of 19 leading aid groups were Yemen, where children are starving, and South Sudan where U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon fears genocide is about to start’.
  3. United Nations OCHA: 12 forgotten crises to remember. ‘Here, we outline 12 forgotten crises that rarely make the headlines but urgently need support this year. None of the 37 countries that were part of the 2016 Global Humanitarian Appeal received 100 per cent of their humanitarian funding needs, but each of [these] crises received less than 40 per cent. Twice a year, the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) allocates underfunded grants to the least funded emergencies with the highest levels of risk, vulnerability and humanitarian need’.
  4. The Huffington Post: 7 Forgotten World Crises That Urgently Need Your Support. ‘Despite the worsening nature of many of the world’s crises, internet traffic reveals “public fatigue” ― a decline in interest ― for the first time in three years, according to U.N. data. And, as the world’s humanitarian needs grow, the gap between funds needed and funds raised has widened… The WorldPost compiled a list of seven of the world’s most swiftly deteriorating and severely underfunded crises that urgently need your support. The list is based largely on findings presented in Global Humanitarian Overview 2017, and in other recent U.N. reports’.

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