Not surprisingly the COVID-19 pandemic dominated the news for 2020. Nevertheless, there were other humanitarian crises that were largely unreported. The relief agency CARE International produces an annual report titled "Suffering in Silence," on those neglected problems.
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.
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.
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.
Guatemala is reeling from the aftermath of two back-to-back category four storms, Iota and Eta. Guatemala – considered a middle-income country by the World Bank – has had continued, moderate (3.5 percent) growth over the last five years. This economic stability, however, has not made much of a dent in poverty and inequality. Even before COVID-19, Guatemala had the sixth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world with close to half (47 percent) of all Guatemalan children chronically malnourished and at risk for stunting. Also worrisome is the national maternal mortality rate which stood at 108 deaths per every 100,000 live births pre-COVID. Around thirty-five children out of every 1,000 born in Guatemala die before the age of five. In desperation, migrants continue to seek a way to the United States, despite the pandemic, and despite American law which in effect bars their entry. Pervasive poverty, high homicide rates driven by gang violence, and corruption – factors that pushed migrants to flee Central America pre-COVID – have not eased during the pandemic.
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.
Less than 10 kilometers from Australia’s most northern islands lies Papua New Guinea (PNG), one of the world’s most culturally diverse and naturally rich nations. It hosts over 800 languages and more than 1,000 distinct ethnic groups. However, in stark contrast to its neighbor, PNG is one of the least urbanized countries globally with the lowest life expectancy in the Pacific region. The island nation is prone to natural disasters. In 2020, it faced flooding, landslides and tremors in addition to the consequences of the global pandemic. PNG is endowed with a wide array of mineral resources, including crude oil, natural gas, gold, copper, silver, nickel and cobalt, and produces a range of primary commodities such as: timber, cocoa, coffee, tea and palm oil. Challenges in development remain to date because of the rugged territory which makes transport difficult. The country’s population of more than 8 million is largely rural (87 percent) and highly dispersed; spread out across the highlands and over 600 islands and atolls. In 2020, the UN estimated that about 4.6 million people in PNG (more than half of its population) are in need of humanitarian assistance. Only 46 percent of the population has access to improved drinking water and some parts of the country face challenges in nutrition, lacking a balanced diet. Pre-COVID-19, PNG’s health system
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. Fear of shelling, violent clashes, and the threat of landmines and explosive remnants of war are the daily reality for those living on either side of the front line. Many people are increasingly affected by mental health issues, both due to the fear of violence as well as the long-term socio-economic impacts of the conflict. Gender-based violence is a serious problem in Ukraine with about three-quarters of Ukrainian women having experienced some form of violence since age 15.