Giving voice to silent emergencies
Summary of editorial1
A recent issue of Humanitarian Exchange focuses on 'Silent Emergencies'. According to the editorial, many emergencies do not attract significant amounts of publicity or political attention. They are 'silent' since they receive little media interest and are marginalised in donor funding decisions. It is argued that aid is apportioned in highly imbalanced and partial ways. UN consolidated appeals (CAPs) reflect this. In 1999, the response to the CAP for former Yugoslavia was $207 per capita compared to only $16 for Sierra Leone and $8 for DRC. While these commitments partly reflect the relative costs of doing business in Africa and Europe, they also reflect the level of political commitment and interest.
A cycle emerges where scant media attention leads to limited donor interest, poor aid commitments and ultimately low estimates of funding that may be available. This in turn reduces the level of proposed programming for the next round of funding. Even further down the scale are those long running emergencies that do not merit a CAP appeal at all, such as the separatist war in western Sahara, the ethnic conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh and the insurgency in southern Philippines.
Furthermore, aid budgets are dwindling. During the 1990s, foreign aid budgets stagnated despite an increase in the number of active wars. For example, OECD humanitarian aid decreased from 0.03% to 0.022%. These patterns are undoubtedly linked to the level of outside political interest and media attention.
|Ten countries / areas receiving most humanitarian assistance (US$m):2|
|FRY (Serbia and Montenegro)||237.24|
|Ex-Yugoslavia (unspecified )||141.79|
|Ten countries / areas with most people in need of assistance:3|
|South East Ethiopia||3,500,000|
The editorial asserts that political interest and media attention depends on how important countries are geo-strategically. Many key donors increasingly channel their funding bilaterally rather than multilaterally via UN agencies. The author projects this association will become more obvious as individual donors earmark their funds for particular countries with increasing ease.
Donor, recipient and non-recipient countries can be seen to sit in interconnected spheres of influence encompassing the geopolitical as well as the geographic. The response to Hurricane Mitch for instance, was strongest in the US, Canada and Spain, while Australia, New Zealand and Japan tend to respond more to emergencies in Asia and Pacific, and ECHO to former Yugoslavia.
As Oxfam recently put it 'donors are more likely to help people who look like them and whose history or plight they can relate to or understand.'
Media are also key factors in determining response. In the US for instance, the conflict in Bosnia received 25 times more press coverage than the Rwandan genocide. Even where crises do attract media attention, coverage tends to be short lived. For example, within a week of volcanic eruptions in DRC, British media had stopped reporting on it. This gives the misleading impression that emergencies are short-lived whereas in fact emergency conditions may be ongoing in many countries. Slow onset disasters such as drought are increasingly low on the priority list of media interest.
SC UK and CARE Australia are among the few agencies so far to have produced guidelines for this subject area. SC UK has identified a series of quantitative indicators that could be used to judge the relative silence of a given emergency. These consist of:
- Donor interest, e.g. how much aid received per capita.
- Political interest, e.g. how many times an emergency is raised in government and parliamentary fora.
- Media interest, e.g. how much coverage an emergency receives in key outlets.
- NGO capacity and response, e.g. how did key NGOs respond to a particular emergency.
SC UK has also outlined a series of key areas for action. These include:
- Information gathering and analysis, e.g. a centralised information resource should be established to capture existing research relating to silent emergencies.
- Public exposure: The humanitarian community should adopt a more transparent coordinated advocacy strategy towards the media and donors so as to promote a more in depth awareness and analysis of emergencies occurring around the world.
- Influencing international funding choices: A more rigorous, equitable and needs based international funding structure is required.
1Editorial by Anna Jeffreys,Humanitarian Exchange 20, March 2002. www.odihpn.org
2Bilateral allocations only (data refers to 2000) Source: DAC
3Data refers to 1999 Source: OCHA Consolidated appeal
More like this
Summary of published paper1 It is commonly assumed that massive media coverage of a humanitarian crisis will lead to increased allocations of emergency funds. This is often...
Summary of briefing paper1 According to a briefing paper just released by Oxfam and Save the Children UK (SC UK), the 2011 crisis in the Horn of Africa has been the most severe...
The authors of this article are Fiona Watson and Aida Filipovitch. Both authors were nutrition Consultants working in B&H for WHO between 1993-6. This article describes the...
An internal evaluation In Field Exchange Issue III a field article described the current situation in Bosnia and the reconstruction process, drawing out implications for food...
FEX: Letter on infant feeding in Former Yugoslavia, by Fiona Watson, Aileen Robertson and Aida Filipovic
Dear Editors, We would like to comment on the article "Infant Feeding in Emergencies: Experience from Former Yugoslavia" (Field Exchange, Issue 1, May '97). Our...
changing roles, trends and issues Summary of a published review1 The changing role of donor governments in the management of humanitarian assistance is the subject of a...
FEX: Synthesis of Key points from the SCN Symposium ‘Nutrition in the context of crisis and conflict’
Statement for endorsement by the UN Secretary General on Nutrition in Conflict and Crisis - 15th March 2002 As reported in the last Field Exchange, the ACC/SCN Sub Committee...
By Mark Wright Mark Wright was the Save the Children Programme Officer for Southern Africa from November 2000 to November 2002. This article details Save the Children UK's...
Malawi 2002, Medical Missionaries of Mary distribute Concern funded maize to most needy in Lilongwe Summary of meeting By Marie McGrath (ENN) On November 5th, 2002 a meeting...
FEX: A Review of the advances and challenges in nutrition in conflicts and crises over the last 20 years
Abbreviated version of unpublished paper Food distribution at the ICRC kitchen in Tonj. By Frances Mason and Anna Taylor This paper is a shortened version of the complete...
FEX: From the editor
This issue of Field Exchange comes out in the wake of the Haiti emergency. Although the relief effort is continuing, the acute phase of the emergency is arguably over at the...
FEX: Kosovo Evaluation
During 1998 and early 1999 the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbian) forces increased their efforts to 'ethnically cleanse' Kosovo. They justified this on the basis that...
Summary of study1 A recent study quantifies the funding provided by donors to meet the humanitarian needs of two of the most vulnerable groups: older people and people with...
Summary of published report1 Children sleeping rough in Kitgum, Uganda For over a decade, the Consolidated Inter- Agency Appeal Process (CAP) has provided the framework for...
Infant Feeding in Bosnia Dear Editors, The comments in the letter to the editors (Field Exchange, issue 2) on the article "Infant Feeding in Emergencies: Experience from...
Summary of report1 A recent report by ALNAP presents a system-level mapping and analysis of the performance of international humanitarian assistance between 2009 and 2011...
Summary of review1 SC UK recently conducted a review of their experiences of supporting Food Security Information Systems (FSIS) over the past 15-20 years. The review drew on...
FEX: From the editor
This issue of Field Exchange gives extended coverage to a briefing paper just released by Oxfam and SC UK on the 2011 response to the Horn of Africa crisis. This paper argues...
Following in the wake of the humanitarian disasters of recent years, and in particular those of the horn of Africa and the Great Lakes as well as those of former Yugoslavia,...
Summary of published research1 Location: Somalia What we know: In July 2011, a famine was declared in Southern Somalia despite sufficient, timely and robust early warnings....
Reference this page
Giving voice to silent emergencies. Field Exchange 16, August 2002. p4. www.ennonline.net/fex/16/giving