Saturday, 23 February 2013

Silent Disasters: Let’s turn up the volume

Image by IFRC/Finnish Red Cross

Last October, the United States, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, India, Vietnam, Argentina, Somalia and Indonesia all were all hit by a flurry of natural disasters.  Yet of all of these, most people have only heard about Hurricane Sandy, which claimed 131 lives and caused major damages to the East Coast of the US. 

Media figures released by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) showed that the impact of Hurricane Sandy in the US grabbed almost 90 percent of all print and online media coverage of a set of 13 disasters from January 2012 to January 2013, across 160 countries.

The other "silent disasters" were food insecurity in both the Sahel and southern Africa, a tropical storm that struck Bangladesh in October, floods in Cambodia and Ecuador, a recent snap of extreme cold in Mongolia, disease epidemics in Uganda including Ebola, a series of earthquakes in Tajikistan, hand, foot and mouth disease in Vietnam, a dengue outbreak in El Salvador and the difficulties faced by Burundian refugees returning home from Tanzania.

The Red Cross and the European Commission have launched a media campaign this week to raise public awareness about the many “silent disasters” around the world that are under-reported, under-funded and often forgotten.

Over 90 percent of disasters around the world go unnoticed. They’re too small, inconvenient or overshadowed by other events. Without the attention of the public and the media, they often pass under the donor community's radar.

"Small-scale disasters may not reach our TV screens, but they still cast painful blows to millions of people every year, destroying their homes and livelihoods," said EU Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Kristalina Georgieva, highlighting the work done by ECHO and the Red Cross to bring relief aid to hard-hit communities.

"Our joint efforts are more important than ever, as climate change, urbanisation and population growth are pushing up the number and impact of disasters,” Georgieva added.  

Each decade, disasters around the world are growing in frequency, severity and cost with no end in sight. By 2015 an estimated 375 million people - a 79 percent increase from 2011 - will suffer the ravages of devastating weather events. These figures are truly alarming.

Even during this time of economic austerity, slashing humanitarian budgets would amount to turning a blind eye to a costly reality that affects us all, and writing off the lives of the millions of families affected by disasters, Georgieva, added. 

Watch the campaign’s video, shown in cinema and on television in 11 European countries this month. It depicts people in comfortable homes eating, while disaster survivors look on in the background. Then the Europeans suddenly hear their voices… The campaign will also run on websites, social media (with the hashtag #silentdisasters) and in print.

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