Since Friday, international aid organizations have been focused on the unfolding disaster in Japan, where supplies are running short and the death toll continues to mount after last week's devastating 8.9 magnitude earthquake and the deadly tsunami flooding that followed.
But there are other, deadlier crises these groups contend with that go largely ignored, Tom Paulson of Multi-American's sister blog Humanosphere in Seattle reported last week. Paulson spoke with representatives from the relief organizations World Vision and Mercy Corps who told him that while sudden disasters elicit an outpouring of public support and donations, it's more difficult to get the public to pay attention to chronic catastrophes that play out on a daily basis.
Some, like the aftermath of last year's disastrous quake in Haiti, continue to get some attention and receive support. Others have gone on so long they have become background noise.
Another habit we have that can distort reality is our tendency to focus only on the immediate disaster news and ignore old crises, or slowly unfolding crises, or disasters that just sit there being disastrous.
I don’t mean at all to diminish the tragedy in Japan, but it’s a wealthy country and is more likely to recover fairly quickly from this catastrophe. The conflict in Libya is a disaster of another type, but we are paying attention there due to the fact that war is fairly newsworthy.
So here are five other ongoing disasters that we should not forget while focused on the current news:
- Haiti — Anywhere from 50,000 to 230,000 killed in that quake. Millions remain homeless more than one year later.
- Pakistan — Flooding, earthquakes and conflict. Millions of homeless, increasing rates of disease and malnutrition. It’s what our government calls a “complex emergency” situation.
- DR Congo — Decades of warfare and almost incomprehensible levels of sexual violence against women.
- Ivory Coast — Political instability. Civil war looming. While the world’s been looking at the freedom fight in Libya and the Middle East, freedom fighters are being chased out or killed in an Ivory Coast power grab.
Niger or Mali — The poorest countries on Earth are seldom in the headlines. But extreme poverty kills about 22,000 children every day — the equivalent of a Haitian earthquake every week and a half or so.
Mercy Corps and World Vision are nonetheless among the many aid groups collecting donations for much-needed assistance to victims in Japan, where hundreds of thousands have been displaced in near-freezing weather between the quake, the flooding, and evacuations in areas surrounding crippled nuclear reactors.
In Southern California, local Japanese American and other organizations have been working on their own disaster relief efforts, including "drive-through" donation events with the American Red Cross today at the Rose Bowl and Angel Stadium and tomorrow at Dodger Stadium.