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Hunger, drought, child mortality in Africa fall out of focus

Martina Schwikowski
January 14, 2024

From Angola to Zambia: The 2023 top ten forgotten humanitarian crises all took place in Africa, says Care International, and climate change played a huge role. The organization's takeaway: More media attention is needed.

A little girls is looking through a trash heap for food in Zimbabwe
Extreme poverty in Zimbabwe: A girl searches some rubbish looking for food near the capital HarareImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Crises in Africa are being overlooked, with news about humanitarian emergencies on the continent buried beneath the weight of media attention focused elsewhere, Care International's 2023 "Breaking the silence" report concludes.

That means issues such as hunger in Angola, chronic malnutrition in Burundi and high child mortality in the Central African Republic are disappearing from public view, the authors concluded.

Analyst Fredson Guilengue from the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Johannesburg, South Africa, sees reasons for the low interest in Africa's plight in the escalation of the two conflicts in the West. 

"[One] is the continuation of the Russia-Ukraine war. It is getting a lot of attention worldwide, especially on the European continent, because the war is returning to Europe," Guilengue told DW.

The global media is now focusing more on Europe and less on Africa or other places. This will likely continue in 2024 as the wars continue, he said.

The conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza has exacerbated this dilemma: what is happening in other parts of the world hardly receives any attention.

In the current report, the aid organization draws attention to the "forgotten crises"  for the eighth time.

Every year, Care lists the ten humanitarian emergencies in the world that have hardly been reported. In 2023 and 2022, they all took place in Africa, and Angola has been leading the list for the last two years as well.

However, the Central African Republic occupied a place in this sad list every year, emphasized David Mutua, Care spokesperson for the African regions.

Angola in extreme distress

The aid organization commissioned the media monitoring service Meltwater to examine five million online articles in Arabic, German, English, French and Spanish from January 1 to  September 30 2023.

From a list of 48 humanitarian crises affecting more than one million people, the ten crises with the lowest media presence were identified.

Only 77,000 of the articles analyzed dealt with Africa's humanitarian disasters, in contrast to the new Barbie film, which topped the list with 273,279 publications, Care Africa spokesperson Mutua said at the presentation of the report.

Angola accounted for just under 1,000 publications, although droughtflooding and hunger meant that more than seven million people needed humanitarian aid in 2023.

Angolans have been struggling with drought for 40 years, there is a lack of clean drinking water and almost thirty years of civil war (1975 to 2002) have left a country littered with mines. Although it is rich in oil and diamonds, most of the approximately 37 million Angolans live in poverty.

Climate change drives crises

In second place is Zambia, where 1.35 million people are affected by hunger. The country is suffering greatly from the consequences of climate change.

So, too, is Burundi where the population regularly battles floods. Almost 70,000 people have been displaced as a result, and almost 5.6 million children in the small East African country are chronically malnourished.

Meanwhile, many people in Senegal and Mauritania also also suffer from hunger.

 A family plant groundnuts in Kachinga, Karamoja region, Uganda
More than half a million people are going hungry in the Karamoja region of UgandaImage: Badru Katumba/AFP/Getty Images

The impact of climate change on people and food security is serious and largely avoidable.

"Climate change drives famine, it makes water problems worse, it destroys people's habitats and drives them out of their homes, it prevents children from going to school," says Deepmala Mahla, Care's Director for Humanitarian Aid.

The consequences are dramatic. One Somali woman in Kenya told Mahla: "The climate, the drought and the weapons haven't killed me, but I feel dead inside."

Close to 300 million people in need of humanitarian aid

In 2024, almost 300 million people worldwide will need humanitarian aid,Care International warned, almost half of them in Africa.

David Mutua cites climate change as a decisive factor. From devastating droughts to extreme flooding — the continent suffers the most from climate change, even though it contributes the least to it.

Worldwide, humanitarian need has never been greater than in 2023. For Mahla, it is therefore not surprising that disasters in Africa receive too little attention:

"We have experienced an unprecedented series of humanitarian crises and natural disasters," she says, referring to the earthquake in the Syrian-Turkish border region, floods in Libya, but also the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East.

Crises escalate in the shadow of crises

Many of the humanitarian crises in Africa would not make it into the news because they are all too familiar.

They "already exist, sometimes they escalate in the shadow of the major crises," added Mahla. "There is nothing new to report, as sad as that sounds."

A man driving a motorbike with a trailer through a flooded street
In Angola people are suffering, with floods and droughts being common. Seven million are in need of humanitarian aid.Image: Borralho Ndomba/DW

For Fred Guilengue, fatigue over the numerous crises in Africa is a factor that inhibits attention. 

"But this tiredness has not just set in now, it already existed at the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s," he said. "Western countries were already tired of not seeing results when it came to democracy on the African continent and foreign aid in particular."

In addition, Deepmala Mahla notes that reporting from Africa is very expensive for foreign journalists and media groups. Many of these humanitarian crises are located in insecure regions that are subject to numerous restrictions imposed by governments, limiting access to these areas for journalists.

One such example is the Central African Republic.

An armed conflict has been raging there since 2013, "which has repeatedly escalated and displaced families several times," says Deepmala Mahla from Care.

Twenty percent of the population have been internally displaced or have fled to neighboring countries.

"Two-thirds of the population, more than three million people, have been in need of humanitarian aid for years," criticizes Mahla.

People are tired of crises

According to Care International, there is also a lack of sufficient funding for humanitarian aid to save lives. In 2023, only 35% of the required financial resources were provided by donors.

"We are also aware that people don't want to or can't consume news about disasters all the time, people are tired of crises," emphasized Mahla.

Better cooperation with the media and politicians is necessary to bring such emergencies to the attention of the global public, she concluded.

This article was originally written in German.