1 February 2007 Edition
International: NGO lists areas of conflict and suffering the media ignores
Humanitarian crises under-reported
Last week An Phoblacht summarised some examples of under-reported humanitarian crises, which have been detailed by Médicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders), an NGO providing healthcare in conflict areas. This week we conclude MSF’s list of top ten under-reported humanitarian stories of 2006.
The death of Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist known for her critical coverage of the war in Chechnya who was shot to death last October in the elevator of her apartment building in Moscow, brought back to the front pages the conflict in Chechnya as prosecutors believe her killing could be connected to her investigative work.
However,untill and since then, the conflict in Chechnya and its consequences on civilians has been almost entirely hidden from the rest of the world. Obviously it is not in the interests of the Putin administration to highlight the result of their repressive policies on the population. Today, while the intensity of the conflict may have decreased, those who lived through the twelve years’ war and the current Russian occupation have to deal with the physical and mental scars of the conflict. Those who left the country to go to the neighbouring Ingushetia returned to find their homes were not there anymore and they are been forced to live in miserable conditions in temporary accommodation. The Russian government has promoted a policy where local Chechen authorities take increasing responsibility for security, yet violence, abductions, and abuses continue. The past year also saw an increase in violence in the neighbouring republics of Ingushetia and Dagestan, but international aid workers, observers and journalists still have limited access to the region.
There were many reports on the first anniversary of the Tsunami that killed hundreds in December 2006, mostly because many of those who died were Westerners on holidays. On the other hand, there has not been such an interest in the breakdown of the Sri Lankan peace process. Fighting resumed in August 2006 between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), especially in the country’s east and northeast. Bombing has been intense in war-affected regions, leading to the displacement of tens of thousands of people. Others are trapped and cannot flee.
The level of violence directed at civilians has increased – a brutal reality that was underscored by the murders of 17 aid workers from Action Contre la Faim (ACF) in early August. The targeting of NGO workers is not new in Sri Lanka, and these killings occurred in a general climate of suspicion, accusations, restrictions and surveillance of NGOs, with Sri Lankan politicians and media outlets accusing international organizations of supporting the Tamil rebellion.
As in any armed conflict, warring parties must respect the independence and neutrality of humanitarian aid workers if civilians are to receive lifesaving emergency assistance. But insecurity and limitations placed on humanitarian organizations continue to make it increasingly difficult to deliver aid to people most affected by the conflict. Several regions, particularly in the east of the island, are entirely cut off from outside assistance.
At any given moment, more than 60 million young children in the world have signs of acute malnutrition – characterized by sudden weight loss or wasting – and are at serious risk of death unless they receive specialized care.
Nutritional emergencies are usually thought to be associated only with conflict and displacement, but acute malnutrition is highly prevalent in politically stable countries wracked by poverty. Services to treat even the severest forms of acute malnutrition are generally unavailable outside large humanitarian emergencies.
Moreover, during such emergencies, the numbers of patients requiring treatment frequently overwhelms inpatient feeding centers. Recent strategies, though, to treat large numbers of malnourished children who have no other medical complications in their homes with relatively new ready-to-use therapeutic products (RUTF), like the milk and peanut-butter paste
Last year, Colombian president Alvaro Uribe was reelected. However, he has done little to change the situation of the country as Colombia entered its fifth decade of violent conflict. Massacres, executions, intimidation and fear remain inescapable parts of everyday life for civilians living in conflict-affected areas.
To date, almost three million people inside Colombia have fled their homes as the result of a conflict fueled by the narcotics trade that involves government military forces and their associated right-wing paramilitary groups and guerrillas from ELN and FARC. Since 2002, President Alvaro Uribe has launched large-scale military campaigns aimed at regaining the territories occupied by rebel groups and has put government troops in more than 1,000 towns. People in these conflict zones are often cut off from basic health care services, including immunization programs, and the perception that they support the armed groups that operate locally makes it too dangerous to seek care outside their villages, even in medical emergencies.
Haiti is not only the poorest country in Latin America, but also the most ignored worldwide. So much so that the massacres suffered by the population in the last two years have gone unreported by media. With the exception of a short respite following presidential elections in February 2006, violence and insecurity was widespread throughout the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. Even with a newly elected government in place, the violence ranged from confrontations between various armed groups in the city and the Haitian National Police and UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), to extensive kidnappings and sexual violence.
The number of patients treated at four MSF medical structures in Port-au-Prince gives an indication of the human consequences of this relentless low-intensity urban conflict. Since December 2004, more than 7,000 people have been treated for violence-related injuries, including more than 3,000 gunshot victims – nearly 1,000 women and children – and 2,600 stabbing victims.
Ongoing conflict in several parts of India – including northeastern Assam and Manipur states highlighted in last year’s Top 10 Underreported Humanitarian Stories list – has gone virtually unnoticed by the outside world for years. In central India’s Chhattisgarh state, clashes between Maoist insurgents, Indian security forces and anti-Maoist militias, also known as Salwa Judum, have been occurring for more than 25 years, resulting in the displacement, sometimes reportedly forced, of more than 50,000 civilians.
Surprisingly, the situation in Chhatisgarh is only one of several armed conflicts occurring throughout India for years, with civilians caught between various belligerent parties. As a consequence, many people continue to live in an atmosphere of fear and violence with little or no access to health care.