The ‘Top Ten’ most underreported humanitarian stories of 2006

January 11, 2007

Identified by Medicins Sans Frontieres:

1. Fleeing violence in the Central African Republic (CAR)
In 2006, civilians in the Central African Republic (CAR) once again fell victim to horrific violence in the latest bout of conflict in a string of coups and rebellions that have plagued the country since it achieved independence from France in 1960. And once more, the plight of the country’s 3.6 million people went largely unnoticed. Since November 2005, fighting has occurred between government troops and various rebel groups in the country’s northwest.
Many villages along the roads have been attacked, looted or burnt. An estimated 100,000 civilians were forced to flee their homes, with some fleeing to neighboring Chad – where MSF is providing assistance – while others sought refuge in the country’s forests, exposed to harsh elements and lacking adequate shelter, food, clean water and health care.

2. Increasing human toll taken by tuberculosis
While many people in the West consider tuberculosis (TB) a disease of a bygone era, the devastating human toll taken by the disease is increasing worldwide, particularly in developing countries with high HIV prevalence. Every year, TB kills nearly two million people while an estimated nine million develop the disease. An additional 450,000 new cases of multi-drug resistant (MDR) TB are seen every year.
This frightening situation became even worse in 2006 when a survey of 544 TB patients in Kwazulu Natal, South Africa, found 10 per cent had developed extensively drug resistant tuberculosis (XDR TB), a strain of TB that is resistant to both first-line antibiotics as well as to two classes of second-line drugs. Almost all of these patients died, and the extent of the outbreak remains unknown.

3. Consequences of bitter conflict in Chechnya
The conflict in Chechnya and its consequences on civilians has been almost entirely hidden from the rest of the world. While it may be decreasing in intensity, for many people who lived through the ebb and flow of this bitter 12-year war, physical and mental scars remain. The majority of Chechens displaced to neighboring Ingushetia during the worst phases of the conflict have now returned home.
Even though reconstruction has gathered pace in the capital Grozny and a few other towns over the past year, thousands of returnees still find themselves without homes to go back to and have to settle instead for miserable living conditions in temporary accommodation centers (TACs). The Russian government has promoted a policy where local Chechen authorities take increasing responsibility for security, yet violence, abductions, and abuses continue.

4. Civilians under fire in Sri Lanka while assistance is limited
Civilians in Sri Lanka have born the brunt of major fighting that 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.

5. Effective strategies for treating malnutrition not implemented
Every year, acute malnutrition is implicated in the preventable deaths of millions of children worldwide. 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. In these contexts, the insistence on trying to address long-term development issues has come at the expense of meeting immediate needs. Services to treat even the severest forms of acute malnutrition are generally unavailable outside large humanitarian emergencies.

6. Congolese endure extreme deprivation and violence
In 2006, people living in the vast Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) voted in democratic parliamentary and presidential elections for the first time in decades. The elections may have thrust the DRC into the media spotlight for a brief moment, but the extreme deprivation and violence endured by millions of Congolese continued unabated and out of view. The mineral rich east of the country remains gripped by violence, with various armed groups, including the national army, using force against the civilian population and creating brutal living conditions.

7. Somalis trapped by war and disaster
The current conflict in Somalia may generate fleeting worldwide attention, but the abysmal day-to-day living conditions faced by Somalis remains largely forgotten. For the past 15 years, Somalia has been in the grip of internal conflict that has had catastrophic consequences on the health of its people. Somalia has some of the world’s worst health indicators: it is estimated that life expectancy is 47 years and more than one quarter of children die before their fifth birthday.

8. Living in fear in Colombia
Colombia is now in its fifth decade of violent conflict, and only Sudan has more internally displaced people. 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, paramilitary groups and armed 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.

9. Violence rages in Haiti’s volatile capital
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.

10. Clashes in central India
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, has been occurring for more than 25 years, resulting in the displacement, sometimes reportedly forced, of more than 50,000 civilians (Assisting amidst violence in Karbi Anglong, Assam, India). Others flee into neighboring states while thousands of people have lost their livelihoods and have little access to their land, food, essential healthcare or emergency medical services.

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