Top Ten Underreported Humanitarian Stories

For the past decade, Médecins Sans Frontières has been releasing a top ten list of the world’s most underreported humanitarian emergencies. They were inspired to do so after a major famine that occured in Sudan in 1998 received almost no coverage in the American media. The list for 2007 is now out, and, as it previous years, certain crises zones continue to reappear:

The [Democratic Republic of Congo] and Colombia, both wracked by ongoing civil conflict and massive internal displacement of civilians, have dominated the list over the past decade, each appearing a total of nine times. The humanitarian consequence of war in Chechnya has appeared eight times. Somalia has appeared seven times, most recently because renewed fighting centered in Mogadishu in 2007 has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes, only to endure disease and extremely precarious living conditions.

According to Andrew Tyndall, publisher of the online media-tracking journal, “The Tyndall Report,” the countries and contexts highlighted by MSF on this year’s list accounted for just 18 minutes of coverage on the three major U.S. television networks’ nightly newscasts from January through November 2007. . . . Chechnya, Sri Lanka, and [Central African Republic]—where many villages were burned to the ground in fighting between government forces and rebels and tens of thousands of people fled into inhospitable forests seeking safety—were never mentioned.

Eighteen minutes is not a lot. The tsunami that hit Asia in 2004 generated massive media coverage. There is a Nobel prize waiting for someone who can figure out how to ensure that political disasters someday receive the same attention as natural ones.