The Forgotten Crises

We must ensure that all people -- regardless of where they are born -- have the ability to live happy, healthy, and safe lives. It is critical for the media, governments, and individuals to focus on the massive scale of human suffering in Middle East and Europe. But we must not limit our focus. We must not ignore people in Africa who are forced to flee from their homes due to violence and conflict.

Driven by countless armed groups, scarce resources, and the devastating effects of climate change and El Niño in some parts of the continent, thousands of people are left homeless within their own countries or walk for days to seek refuge in a new one. The world tends to forget these crises. This is unacceptable.

On Friday, at the United Nations General Assembly Meeting on Humanitarian Response in Africa: the Urgency to Act, I stressed that we must work to immediately alleviate suffering and build communities that are resilient to multiple shocks. The world must take some concrete steps.

First, it is crucial to strengthen our efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to those who are displaced during protracted crises. As warring parties in Somalia continue to indiscriminately kill and displace hundreds of civilians, and as an estimated 1.7 million people are affected by severe drought, we must continue to ensure people have access to food, shelter, and medical assistance.

To do this, it is important to create space for humanitarian actors such as NGOs and UN agencies to work safely and effectively. Last year, in South Sudan alone, humanitarian organizations experienced 909 incidents, most of them violent, which limited their access to people living in dire circumstances. In December 2013, an outbreak of conflict resulted in 2.3 million people fleeing their homes. This left 1.69 million people without a home in their own country and forced 678,000 people to flee to neighboring ones.

With continued conflict and an increasing number of people in dire need of food and nutrition, we must ensure affected populations have access to humanitarian assistance. Another critical component of reducing the number of forcibly displaced people is to improve the capacity of local communities to respond to crises. A Grand Bargain at the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit must include the funding and reforms necessary for local civil society organizations, governments, and their international partners to develop networks and institutions that can effectively respond to the effects of droughts, floods, and violent conflicts.

Lastly, to assist those who have fled their homes and to prevent an exodus in the future, humanitarian and development actors must work side by side. In Ethiopia, 10.2 million people are in need of emergency food aid due to drought brought on by El Nino. Amongst others, many refugees from Somalia are impacted. To address this, along with other InterAction members, Catholic Relief Services is currently distributing food to households while also supporting programs that aim to build systems that can better withstand future droughts.

The world must step up to address crises that are preventing individuals everywhere from living up to their full potential. By joining forces, governments, U.N. agencies, international NGOs, local civil society organizations, and private businesses can collectively aide affected populations while building stronger, more resilient communities where people need not flee. As we prepare for the World Humanitarian Summit, it is critical that we bring attention to the world’s crises that are so often forgotten and ignored.

View the speech (comments begin at the 51 minute mark)

Follow Samuel A. Worthington on Twitter: @SamInterAction