The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), a highly respected, independent non-governmental organization that works with refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), has released its annual list of the world’s ten most neglected displacement crises. Six of the ten are in Africa. The top five, all in Africa, are: the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Sudan, South Sudan, and Nigeria. The others, in order of magnitude, are Yemen, Palestine, Ukraine, Myanmar, and Somalia.
The NRC list is based on:
- Demonstrated lack of political will for a resolution, both among domestic combatants and the international community;
- lack of media attention; and,
- lack of economic support for UN humanitarian appeals.
According to NRC Secretary General Jan Egeland, “The international community has not only forgotten these crises, but has never really shown sufficient willingness to contribute to a solution.”
How true. For example, the CAR has largely dropped out of Western consciousness, even though one in five CAR residents are displaced from their homes and only 35 percent have access to clean drinking water. Despite this need, international donors only covered 38 percent of the UN appeal for humanitarian assistance. It should come as no surprise that the CAR ranked dead last in the UN Human Development Index for the third year in a row. In Nigeria, despite receiving the highest media coverage per IDP, only half of humanitarian appeals for assistance have been met in 2016. The list goes on.
The NRC report would seem to be a call to action on the part of the wealthy and democratic West. Yet the reaction is muted. Why so little attention from the United States, especially when it comes to crises in Africa? Part of the answer involves the longstanding U.S. involvement in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and the fact that anything relating to terrorism receives an inordinate amount of media attention. Another part is compassion fatigue: to many Americans humanitarian crises in Africa seem to be never ending, offering few reasons to believe things will or can get better. Finally, the current administration is inward looking, promising to cut U.S. foreign aid and support for international institutions. There is not much room for Africa in “America First.”