The COVID-19 pandemic has not only sapped media attention from global humanitarian crises, but it has also made them worse, NGO CARE International has warned.
As the coronavirus pandemic dominated headlines across the world throughout 2020, major humanitarian crises went unreported, relief agency CARE International said on Tuesday.
In an annual report titled "Suffering in Silence," the NGO highlighted that the COVID-19 pandemic not only diverted attention away from humanitarian crises but has also helped exacerbate them.
CARE called out media organizations for not prioritizing populations from Guatemala to Malawi who are in dire need and how this affects humanitarian response.
CARE analyzed and ranked the 10 humanitarian crises with the lowest number of online news articles mentioning them, starting with the emergency that received the least amount of media attention at number one.
"These 10 crises received 26 times less attention — in terms of online news articles — than the launch of PlayStation 5," CARE said.
Six African countries made the list, sharing a list of malaise ranging from internal displacement, hunger and malnutrition, and chronic poverty.
Burundi, the fifth-poorest country in the world, topped the list with 2.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. The country has one of the highest rates of chronic malnourishment in the world, the report said.
"The Central African Republic (CAR), Madagascar, Mali and Burundi have appeared on the list across multiple years, yet the people in these countries don’t get sufficient media attention," the report said, highlighting a number of African nations on the list.
The suffering is particularly acute for those living in the Central African Republic, a country whose "perennial" massive crises go largely underreported each year.
"Despite its significant mineral deposits that include gold, diamonds and uranium, as well as rich arable land, CAR sits at second last on the 2019 Human Development Index," the report added.
Non-African countries on the list also share an urgent need for aid amid food insecurity, but they also face conflict and climate change as structural factors fueling their humanitarian crises.
Pakistan, ranked seventh on the list and the world's fifth most populous country, has been plagued by the intersection of conflict, the effects of climate change, and pervasive poverty.
In 2020, "Pakistan suffered its worst locust plague in history, forcing the government to import wheat for the first time in six years," the report said. This was followed by extreme flooding which destroyed crops, food supplies and livestock.
Madagascar is another underreported nation particularly ravaged by climate change, CARE highlighted. The island nation suffers from "recurrent, protracted droughts, and an average of 1.5 cyclones per year — the highest rate in Africa."
The report stressed that an estimated one fifth of Malagasy people, some 5 million, are directly affected by recurring natural disasters, including cyclones, floods and droughts.
The pandemic has not only sapped international attention away from these humanitarian crises, but it has also helped to worsen them, CARE said.
"The effects of COVID-19, coupled with the growing impacts of climate change, have increased the number of people in need by 40% — the single largest increase ever recorded in one year," the report read.
The NGO also noted a marked decrease in bilateral development aid as donor governments, typically richer and developed nations, have diverted their resources to address the economic and social fallout of COVID-19 at home.
Ukraine, the only European country on the list, is one such example. Years of conflict in its eastern regions have lost relevance in today’s media landscape, CARE said. The elderly and women have been left most vulnerable.
"The stress associated with the conflict has been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions, which have limited people’s ability to cross the contact line, access basic services and markets, and receive the humanitarian aid they normally rely on," the report read.
CARE called on news media to improve reporting of humanitarian crises in 2021. The NGO warned that amid continued focus on the coronavirus pandemic and the diversion of major donor resources, increased media attention could help keep humanitarian lifelines afloat.