Conflict, Forgotten Crises, And The Humanitarian Gaze 

Conflict, Forgotten Crises, And The Humanitarian Gaze 

Shabaka guest contributor Ismail Einashe offers his reflections on the need to keep eyes on forgotten crises.

In recent weeks, the world has been gripped by the heart-wrenching scenes emanating first from Israel with the brutal Hamas attacks on 7 October, which claimed over 1,200 lives, and then from Gaza following Israel’s military campaign to ‘neutralise’ Hamas. In Gaza, we have witnessed a constant horror-show of dead babies, decimated buildings, bombed hospitals, and the unrelenting horrors of war against some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. They have endured occupation, a form of apartheid, campaigns of mass surveillance, and disproportionate attacks by the Israeli military, supported by the US and other Western allies.  

In Israel, 250,000 Israelis have been internally displaced by attacks on its southern border from Gaza and from its northern border by rocket attacks from south Lebanon. In Gaza over 85% of Gaza’s population of 2.2m has been internally displaced, and there is no safety for its inhabitants. Suggestions by Israeli ministers that Gazans should seek temporary refuge in Egypt presage a second Nakba and have been widely resisted by Gazans themselves, as well as Egypt, Jordan, and other states in the region. The unparalleled destruction in Gaza has led to a humanitarian disaster, accusations of collective punishment and ethnic cleansing, and has inspired further violence from extremist Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

Civilians make up 61% of all casualties in Gazaaccording to analysis by the Israeli newspaper HaaretzAs of Sunday, 28 January, an estimated 26,422 Palestinians were killed in Gaza, and a further 65.087 injured, the majority of them women and children, according to Gaza’s health ministry. On top of this, those reporting the horrors of Gaza to the world are under unprecedented attack. Since the conflict began, at least 83 journalists and media workers have been killed in Gaza and Israel, according to the Committee to Protect  Journalists (CPJ).

Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images

The crisis has forced the world’s media and leaders not to look away. On 29 December 2023, South Africa launched proceedings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against Israel for alleged violations in the Gaza Strip of the Convention. Although stopping short of ordering a ceasefire, last week the ICJ ordered provisional measures on Israel to prevent genocide and increase humanitarian aid to Gaza. 

For too long, the world has ignored this conflict, one of the most intractable. The plight of the Palestinians has not only been neglected but tragically ignored. But the horrors in Gaza also force us to examine why some humanitarian crises receive more coverage than others. The stark reality of the divide between how the West has responded to the Ukraine crisis and others brutally shows us how other humanitarian crises are routinely ignored. 

It reveals a broader, troubling pattern of indifference toward humanitarian emergencies unfolding in the Global South. For example, the situation in Burkina Faso is now considered the world’s most neglected crisis. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) says that violence, hunger, and displacement have become commonplace, so much so that now one in four people in the country are in urgent need of aid and assistance. On top of this, since the conflict  in Burkina Faso began five years ago, over 14,000 people have been killed, with half of the fatalities occurring since January 2022. 

Along with Burkina Faso, the conflict in Sudan, which is currently the world’s largest displacement crisis and faces allegations of genocidal violence resurfacing in Darfur 20 years on, serve as poignant examples of situations that merit more attention. We must question why the media reports some crises more than others. There is a certain sense that some groups of people do not deserve the same embodied human coverage as others. The media frames their lives, stories, and conflicts as less deserving. There is a fundamental question of whose suffering matters, and why we prioritise specific humanitarian crises over others.

During the onset of the Ukraine conflict, the media often conveyed that Ukrainians were just like us, more familiar and easier to empathise with their plight. This means humanitarian crises are deemed not culturally familiar or important for audiences in the West, or since they’re taking place in peripheral places, they are not deemed newsworthy. This means that many of today’s humanitarian crises are neglected, ignored, and written out of the media, political, and cultural landscape.

The disparity in media and political coverage becomes especially apparent when contrasting the situation in Ukraine. The aftermath of the Russian invasion witnessed Western countries pledging billions in aid; for example, the U.S. has so far pledged more than $75 billion in aid since the start of the war, including humanitarian, military, and financial assistance. And this does not include other war-related financial support ,nor the support extended by the European Union, which has given over $43 billion in economic and budgetary support and humanitarian and emergency assistance to date.

The disregard for crises in the Global South, whether in Somalia, Sudan, Burkina Faso, or Yemen, lays bare the double standards that the Western world appears to harbour, rooted in histories of violence, colonialism, global plunder, and mass capitalist extraction, particularly when it comes to armed conflicts in Africa. The lack of political will and the disturbing perception that individuals in these regions somehow deserve their suffering exacerbates the unequal distribution of global attention.

Rafiqur Rahman/Reuters

Meanwhile, conflicts in the Sahel now have involved the Americans, French, and other Western powers, as well as Russia’s Wagner group. In Sudan, the conflict is becoming a proxy battle, with Western nations turning an all too blind eye to what the UAE and the Saudis have been doing, whilst also striking targets in Yemen, for years one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, in response to Houthi attacks on shipping in the Red Sea. The drumbeat towards escalation in Middle East and across the Horn of Africa and the Sahel grows ever louder.

Sudan, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, DR Congo, Myanmar, and other crises must not linger in the shadows. The plight, suffering, and pain of those in these places demand meaningful responses regarding aid, recognition, assistance, and support. We need to see that all humanitarian crises matter and matter equally. We need collective reflection, introspection, and re-evaluation of our focus on global humanitarian crises and our responses to them as states, societies, and individuals. Diaspora communities also have a vital role to play in this, due to their lived experience and transnational connections The world must recognise human dignity in all crises and respond with aid, recognition, assistance, solidarity, and support. 

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