OPINION: Ukraine response shows what’s possible for world’s most neglected

by Laila Matar | @Laila_Matar | Norwegian Refugee Council
Thursday, 14 July 2022 07:00 GMT

Refugee children who fled following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, attend a school preparation course offered by the elementary school 'Sonnenstrasse', in Dusseldorf, Germany, March 18, 2022. REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen

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The glaring gap between the response to the Ukraine crisis and the meagre support offered to many of the world’s neglected crises is undeniable

By Laila Matar, Director of Advocacy and Media at the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Driving through the windswept camps in Hajjah, north-west Yemen in June I was struck by the stark contrast between the precarious makeshift homes, and the conference hall in Geneva where two months earlier donors had pledged less than a quarter of the aid needed by these war-ravaged communities to simply survive.

Although one of the world’s most high-profile humanitarian crises, Yemen is now severely underfunded and at risk of joining the long list of countries neglected by world leaders.

Deepening neglect

Each year, the Norwegian Refugee Council publishes its report on the top ten most neglected displacement crises in the world. The analysis looks at the crises that rarely make international headlines, receive inadequate aid, and are ignored by politicians. 

This year, analysis from prior to the escalation of the war in Ukraine found that all of the ten most neglected crises were on the African continent: Democratic Republic of Congo, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, South Sudan, Chad, Mali, Sudan, Nigeria, Burundi, and Ethiopia. 

For the coming year, this list will likely see a race to the bottom as previously headline-hitting crises such as Yemen and Syria become increasingly overshadowed by the needs in Europe, driven by the war in Ukraine. 

But this is not inevitable.

Proving what is possible

The response to the devastating war in Ukraine, which I visited in April, has demonstrated the gap between the immense support that can be generated when the international community rallies behind a crisis, and the daily reality for millions of people suffering in silence and on the brink of being forgotten.

It was heart-warming to see that in a matter of hours, the UN’s Ukraine appeal was almost fully funded, politicians mobilised, publics around the world donated record amounts, and newspapers ran front page after front page reporting the horrors of the unfolding war. Of course, this conflict is still far from being resolved and will need sustained action for many months to come.

But seldom has the selectivity of the world’s attention been so striking.

This strong reaction to a conflict happening within Europe which has uprooted 14 million people, and which has vast global consequences, is human and understandable. But the desperation I saw on the faces of people in Bucha, Ukraine bore striking similarities to those I have seen in Yemenis, Syrian refugees in Jordan, or Afghans who have fled to Iran. These people and the millions of others chronically ignored around the world have also been forced from their home, and they all deserve our support. There is no hierarchy of human suffering.

Whether driven by geopolitical interests, fatigue due to the protracted nature of many neglected crises, or even a form of eurocentrism and racism, the glaring gap between the response to the Ukraine crisis and the meagre support offered to many of the world’s neglected crises is undeniable.

But rather than simply make comparisons between the support given to Ukraine and to other crises, pitting one against the other, we should instead focus on learning and replicating this unprecedented response to inspire robust action for all those at risk of being forgotten.

A stronger global community  

As the number of people displaced around the world reaches 100 million – a record high – now more than ever the world must rally together and dig deep to provide the funding and political will required to prevent creating another lost generation of displaced children.

Countries must avoid devastating cuts to their humanitarian budgets as we have seen in the UK, or redistributing already limited funding away from crises countries to support the local hosting of Ukrainians as we have seen in Sweden, Denmark and in Norway. Instead, it is imperative that the world richest nations – which have the ability to fully fund all UN humanitarian appeals overnight if they wish – increase their support across the board.

We urge donors to scale up their efforts in meeting their target of providing 0.7% of Gross National Income in development assistance as soon as possible, supporting those most in need in crisis-affected countries. This aid must be allocated based on need rather than based on perceived national interest or the level of media coverage.

Beyond this, political will must be put towards finding lasting real solutions to these crises to halt them in their tracks. International support for inclusive solutions at national and regional level is essential to allow conflict-affected populations to rebuild their lives.

Women I met in Yemen, like Mariam who is losing her sight from malnutrition, or Mona who cannot find enough food for her children, cannot afford to wait for the world to debate the severity of their needs. They need action from leaders today.

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