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June 28, 2005

The Forgotten Emergencies

Either by sheer magnitude, access by the world’s communicators, or political prominence, some humanitarian crises grab international attention, appearing on the evening news or in the morning papers, and staying there for some time.

Even then, the attention moves elsewhere as people focus on their own lives and the daily pressures and problems that face anyone, whether the residents of affluent cities or squatters in refugee camps. Life goes on, and even the horror of a natural disaster, war, or genocide disappears into crowded memories.

The tsunami is no longer news and last year’s Caribbean hurricanes have blown by. Buried even more are the lingering multi-year crises that never made it to page one and have never been of major concern to the world’s powers or the media gatekeepers.

Humanitarians call these The Forgotten Emergencies.

Reuters AlertNet asked more than 100 humanitarian professionals, media personalities, academics and activists which of the world's "forgotten" emergencies they wanted the global media to focus on in 2005. Among them are eight regions that have been in crisis for many years. Conflicts in Congo, Uganda and Sudan are the three biggest forgotten emergencies, dwarfing the Asian tsunami's death toll but attracting scant media interest.

Top forgotten crises include:

o Congo
o North Uganda
o Sudan
o West Africa
o Colombia
o Chechnya
o Haiti
o Nepal

Reuters also found AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa and infectious diseases worldwide to be of paramount concern but relatively uncovered by the world’s media.

Posted by Jim at June 28, 2005 05:15 PM

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While cable news provides precious little news, we forget about, or even more likely, know little to nothing of the Forgotten Emergencies.... [Read More]

Tracked on June 29, 2005 02:58 AM


Another forgotten emergency.
This is a story on behalf of the displaced Mayan Indians from the municipality of Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan, Sololá, Guatemala.

In early October, 2005 tropical storm Stan hit Guatemala. The heavy rains caused devastation and destruction across the country. Mudslides and flooding affected many of the indigenous communities in the Guatemalan Highlands with its steep mountains, sandy soil and large deforested areas severely affecting their livelihoods and dependence on subsistence agriculture.

At the time of the disaster the affected communities received very little international press, with few exceptions, and now, none to speak of, to make matters worse they have also been forgotten by their own media.
The Mayan Indians of the communities of Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan are just another of the many forgotten victims of tropical storm Stan. This is their reality…

Immediately following Stan many inhabitants of the 9 different villages in the municipality of Santa Catarina abandoned their damaged or destroyed homes and fields for higher and safer ground. Having nowhere else to go they settled in an area on the summit of Chikisis, otherwise known as "Alaska" for its biting morning frosts and desolate treeless landscape.

The decision to leave their ancestoral lands was extremely difficult for many and to settle in an area with a drastically colder climate made things even harder. The land they moved to in their desperation was mostly privately owned land -but not their own, which later caused political upheaval and required negotiations in order for the displaced communties to be permitted to stay.

For the first month the people lived in improvised shelters made of industrial plastic and corrugated tin. In November 2005 USAID put up temporary houses made of plastic siding with dirt floors, that are intended to last no more than 6 months. Now more than one year later still 6 of the 9 communities are living in these temporary houses without water and electricity.

These temporary plastic shelters do not prevent the rain and wind to come in from above and below, the dirt floor is muddy half the time, they do not have potable water, nor enough water to clean themselves with, no electricity, no land to farm, there is not sufficient enough firewood to cook with since the area has been heavily deforested, nor are there any health services, and only occasionally the communities receive aid.

Although the people have showed tremendous strength and patience they are not invincible; sickness, malnutrition, severe depression are part of their daily lives due to their lack of resources and support.

The construction of new communities for these displaced families, which has been a joint effort between the Guatemalan government and several international and local NGOs, has been painstakingly slow, in some communities almost non-existent, and an overall embarrassment to all involved. What makes the situation sadder is that community members are able and willing to work in the construction of their own homes and water systems but there is a lack of funds for building materials in most communities and the government's help and support is minimal.

Despite the risks involved some of the families have returned to their old villages. These are the families that have lost all hope that they will ever receive the basic services to live a dignified and fruitful life in the resettlement areas. Nevertheless the majority of families hold on to a hope that things will improve one day and despite their abysmal living conditions they know that at least they and their children will no longer be living in danger of mudslides and flooding.

For more information and photos of the reality of the resettlement camps visit

Posted by: Karen Rasmussen at November 21, 2006 10:32 AM