African crises among the most neglected in the world

African nations account for nine out of 10 countries in a Norwegian Refugee Council ranking of the most-neglected displacement crises

1. Cameroon

"My father tells me I have to go to school," Lawan says shyly. His father is a teacher in another village but Lawan has four siblings in the same school, and has safety in them. He is in class five now, listening carefully to his teacher Adamou. He likes the French classes the best. With his birth certificate he can stay in school, unlike some of his close classmates who can only attend one more year before they lose their right.

Just a few days earlier Boko Haram attacked the village at night, looting the villagers, but not killing anyone this time. Most of Lawan's classmates are internally displaced already, and come with their own memories and scars. When the conflict follows them to where they fled to safety, life can feel pretty fragile.

This Wednesday, 42 students are absent from class. They should have been 95 in total. This is far above the average national level of 60 students per class. Adamou, the teacher, knows that several families fled the village after the attack and some have yet to return, while others stay at home in fear.

Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC
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Trapped in the crossfire of armed violence between Boko Haram and government forces, civilians in north Cameroon have seen their villages razed, loved ones slaughtered and families forced to flee in a country that has been named the world’s most neglected displacement crisis for two years in a row.

Despite immense need, the humanitarian response remained one of the least-funded appeals in the world last year, with donors showing little appetite to help the struggling African nation.

"Cameroon tops the list because the country barely makes headlines despite facing three separate emergencies and ranking the fourth-most affected sub-Saharan African country by Covid-19," Tom Peyre-Costa at the Norwegian Refugee Council told The National.

Cameroon’s worsening crisis is far from unique in being sidelined, with African countries accounting for 90 per cent of the most neglected displacement crises in the world, according to an annual ranking by the Norwegian Refugee Council.

The report, published on Wednesday, shows African nations topping the list for the fifth consecutive year, while Palestine and Libya, the two MENA countries included last year, have dropped out of the top 10.

“We can't unsee that the Middle East attracts more interest than Sub-Saharan Africa,” Mr Peyre-Costa said. “Crises in the Middle East are at the doorstep of Europe, so there is definitely more geopolitical interest.”

6. Mali

Aigachatou, a single mother and her children, standing in front of their makeshift tent after fleeing violence in Timbuktu in Mali.
Photo: Togo Moise/NRC

Cameroon was followed by the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Venezuela, Mali, South Sudan, Nigeria, Central African Republic and Niger in the ranking, which analysed 40 displacement crises based on three criteria: lack of funding, lack of media attention, and political and diplomatic neglect.

Poor access for international journalists has also undermined the global coverage of crises in Africa.

In 2019 the DRC, with the second-largest hunger crisis in the world after Yemen and an internal displacement problem that’s second only to Syria, was the least-covered crisis in the world.

Last year, the DRC humanitarian appeal was only 37 per cent funded while the Syrian response reached 65 per cent. “Media coverage and international support feed each other. Everything is intertwined,” Mr Peyre-Costa said.

The situation is mirrored across Africa, where aid agencies say poorly funded appeals are especially concerning as Covid-19 spreads across the continent.

“Violence in many parts of Africa has not stopped because of Covid-19. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Mali, and South Sudan, families continue to be forcibly uprooted, fuelling already-dire displacement crises now complicated by Covid-19,” Patrick Youssef, incoming regional director for Africa at the International Committee of the Red Cross, said.

“Our teams every day see the resilience of displaced families to carve out a living after losing everything to conflict, but now they face a crisis on top of a crisis. Physical distancing is impossible. Running water, soap and medical care are often hard to come by. And the rising price effect of Covid-19 hits empty stomachs hard. Violence and Covid-19 are a tragic combination for far too many.”

The more neglected the countries, the harder they will be hit by the economic shock of the pandemic, Mr Peyre-Costa told The National. "What is key is that the international community stands in solidarity with these nations so the virus does not add another humanitarian disaster to the myriad of crises they already face."