Gender and Development

A Look At Humanitarian Crises with the Least Media Coverage

In January 2018, CARE International released a report titled Suffering in Silence, which identified the 10 most under-reported humanitarian crises in 2017. Katie Dobosz-Kenney recaps the findings of the report shedding light on some of the most critical humanitarian crises of our time.

BY: KATIE DOBOSZ KENNEY

At a time when human suffering, ethnic, economic, religious and racial divisions, as well as violent conflict feel more ubiquitous across the globe, the media plays one of the largest roles in disseminating and analyzing information, while also filtering which stories, tragedies, or triumphs are newsworthy. Journalists continue to face a declining audience in “print media” and have to compete for fewer resources and dwindling readership with catchy headlines. We exist in a time where facts can be touted as “fake news” and are so often caught up with commentators in the circus of deciphering the inane, we may not stop to reflect on all of the critically important stories unable to break through the noise. The rising and continued threats of global climate change and violent conflict perpetuate an undeserved and inequitable experience for many members of our human family –  and our propensity toward collective action is stunted without awareness of and access to existing information on these extremely volatile circumstances.

In January 2018, CARE International released a report titled Suffering in Silence, which identified the 10 most under-reported humanitarian crises in 2017. The report overtly stated that its purpose was not to pit crisis against crisis in an unwinnable contest of comparison, but to begin a discourse about how and why humanitarian crises may receive media coverage over others, and how we as members of this human race can offer constructive support, elevate local voices, and enact sustainable solutions to prevent, mitigate, and end the most extreme of human suffering in areas that are “off the radar” and hardest to reach.

Over the course of 2017, CARE International, with the help of intelligence and social monitoring firm the Meltwater Group, evaluated over 1 million articles concerning 40 crises that met the criteria of containing over 1 million people affected by a man-made or natural disaster. The results included 10 countries/regions that were ordered by greatest to least coverage:

10. Peru

9. Central African Republic

8. Lake Chad Basin

7. Vietnam

6. Mali

5. Democratic Republic of Congo

4. Sudan

3. Burundi

2. Eritrea

1. Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Not coincidentally, 6 of these 10 also emerged on the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund list of the most underfunded emergencies in 2017; Suffering in Silence intentionally makes note of this and further insinuates correlation between lack of media coverage and lack of international funding. The identified crises range from food insecurity and malnutrition, access to water and displacement and destruction by water, to lack of education and healthcare infrastructure, gender-based violence, and oppression. All of these crises were prompted by either ongoing violent conflict or natural disasters. In each of the 10 synopses, the report explicitly highlights that most factors and circumstances are regionally unique to emphasize that though similarities may exist across crises, the factors and root causes surrounding them drastically vary.

Suffering in Silence provides more than a glimpse into under-reported suffering – the report concludes with 7 steps to aid in giving greater exposure to humanitarian struggles that are overlooked or wholly unknown:

  1. Media Access
  2. Reporting Outside the Box
  3. Funding Foreign Reporting
  4. Think Local
  5. Raise the Voices of Women and Children
  6. Invest in communications as a core function of humanitarian work
  7. Looking at the Bigger Picture

The action items are powerful because their simplicity makes them tangible, accessible, and able to be implemented at both the grassroots and the governmental (national and international) level. Whereas reporting on issues from the ground is always ideal, Suffering in Silence highlights the necessity of finding creative ways of reporting, as many of these locations operate under restrictive laws that limit access to information (i.e. Burundi and DPRK) or are occurring in places not typically associated with humanitarian crises (i.e. Peru and Vietnam). That creativity would also aid in showcasing unique factors of crises and further distinguishing countries and crises from one another to mitigate “compassion fatigue” and the “empathy gap.”

The need to fund foreign reporting is not a new concept, but remains an important one. Beginning in the late 1990s, reports began to emerge regarding the decline in foreign news stories in Western media, as exemplified by the graphic below from University of Oxford, which shows a distorted map based on the countries most covered by the Guardian in 2013.

The most critical of these actions items are the final four: amplifying local voices especially those of women and children, communications infrastructure as a mechanism of humanitarian aid, which together with the first three work to prevent potential damage and violence through increased awareness.

Because CARE International had to limit the scope of their study by evaluating crises affecting over 1 million people, it stands to reason that more than 10 countries or regions go drastically underreported or unknown. For example, the violent struggle of for independence by the indigenous people of West Papua (est. population of 870,000) from Indonesia, which has resulted in recurring human rights abuses including unjust imprisonment, torture, accusations of genocide, and restricted freedom of expression, was severely underreported.

As a consumer of news media, you can take action: follow a local organization in a country you know nothing about on Twitter; write to your favorite news sources about stories, both locally and internationally about issues and crises you think should have greater coverage. Even the water crisis in Flint, MI has moved far out of the media spotlight. Donate to an organization like Reporters without Borders, who fight for equitable access of information around the world; or even reach out to local diasporic communities displaced by humanitarian crises and amplify their perspective through a published article. These crises will remain inaccessible, unheard, and unsolvable without collective action. Fixing a global problem can feel inaccessible to one person, but Suffering in Silence shows that tangible tools and mechanisms for change are at our disposal to begin tackling these problems today.


Katie Dobosz Kenney holds an MS in Global Affairs from New York University with a concentration in Peacebuilding. An educator for almost 10 years, Katie had developed global and peace education curricula in Florida, Mississippi, and Timor-Leste. Katie currently works as a graduate program administrator at NYU’s Center for Global Affairs and has co-led study abroad programs to South Africa and the UAE.

Photo Credit: EC/ECHO/Cyprien Fabre

Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.

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