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When the world moves on, what happens to those left behind?

When our team initially started putting this story together, back in January, we aimed to raise awareness of emergencies that are still unfolding but are too often left out of the headlines.

Little did we know what a different place the world would be just a few weeks later. Across the globe, news channels are dominated by a single headline: coronavirus. Coronavirus has drastically altered our way of life.

For the vulnerable communities we serve, coronavirus is also a new and distressing reality to be confronted with. But it comes in addition to the overwhelming challenges they are already facing.

Syrian refugees have been living in settlements for over 9 years now, and the Congolese have been bravely and relentlessly fighting off Ebola since 2018. Circumstances like these leave people particularly susceptible to infectious diseases, and aid organisations including Medair are responding as best they can to mitigate the impact of coronavirus on these communities.

But what about those “other” crises? The ones that brought us to these countries in the first place. The ones that have not let up despite this new threat. The ones that could make the spread of coronavirus even more devastating.

We asked some of our colleagues to explain why these other crises are (still) emergencies. Now, perhaps more than ever, they must not be forgotten.

AFGHANISTAN: Where to begin?

A grandfather sits with his grandson, who was successfully treated by Medair for moderate acute malnutrition, in the Central Highlands of Afghanistan.

“There are so many simultaneous emergencies in Afghanistan; the first challenge is often knowing where to even begin. Most people are aware, from the news, of the conflict in Afghanistan, but what you see is often just a glimpse of the much larger story that is unfolding. You are less likely to hear about the devastating impact the conflict and natural disasters are having on the people of Afghanistan, and on children in particular. This year, a quarter of the country’s total population – over 9 million out of 38 million people – will be in need of humanitarian assistance. Over half of them are children. Families are struggling to access nutritious food and as a result 41% of children under 5 years old in Afghanistan have stunted growth – one of the world’s highest rates.

As an organisation, we are trying to respond with a holistic approach and implement projects addressing the different crises within the communities where we work. This includes sending mobile nutrition teams to villages to treat malnourished mothers and children; providing access to safe drinking water by building or rehabilitating water points; building essential sanitation facilities such as latrines, to improve hygiene conditions; training women to grow vegetables in their gardens to increase food diversity. In areas of the country which were particularly affected by drought, we also provided farmers with seeds to help them secure their next harvest, and the means to buy food until the harvest was ready.”

Anna C, Head of Medair’s Afghanistan Programme


Rohingya Crisis: “People’s lives have been put on hold”

A Rohingya family sits by their shelter in Kutupalong Refugee Camp.

“It’s been more than two years now since over 700,000 Rohingya fled their homes in Myanmar. They crossed over into Bangladesh, traumatised, with just the clothes on their backs. Many were hoping they would be able to return to their homes in a matter of weeks, months at most. Yet here we are in 2020 and they are still waiting – many of them living in what has now become the world’s largest refugee camp. Over 600,000 people live in just 13 square kilometres of land – more than half of them are children. 

For now, Rohingya refugees depend fully on humanitarian assistance to survive. As aid organisations we cannot give them what they want most – to return home in peace and safety – but we can provide for their needs through health care, nutrition treatment for mothers and children, and shelters to help them stay safe.”

Carl Adams, Country Director (Bangladesh)


Syrian Crisis: the largest ongoing refugee crisis of our time

A child smiles in his home in East Amman, Jordan – 4th Dec 2019

“At Medair Jordan, we are responding to the largest ongoing refugee crisis of our time by serving vulnerable Syrian refugees and their host community. Financial insecurity, unemployment, poverty and child labour are all challenges that make our emergency response for the Syrian refugees extremely important. Refugees in Jordan are still unable to access health facilities to receive life-saving surgery or pay for complicated deliveries of babies. This is where our Health team at Medair Jordan fills the gaps by providing cash assistance to vulnerable refugees in financial need.

Even though the Syrian crisis has been going on for a long period of time, the living conditions of the Syrian refugees have not improved substantially. They still face problems accessing education, health facilities, shelter, obtaining legal status, and securing decent income. They can still be considered to be in a state of emergency, and deserve the full attention of Medair’s teams.”

Sarah AlZureikat, Medair’s Health Officer


South Sudan

In 2019, Medair’s South Sudan Emergency Response Team vaccinated nearly 300,000 children against measles.

“A country which has been through multiple civil conflicts over several decades has been affected in every area: food supplies, education, social protection; even infrastructure like roads, water networks and communications. Add in drought, famine, and sometimes severe flooding and you’ll find emergency levels of malnutrition, a lack of livelihoods, and a health system that struggles to stock essential medicines and to reach a scattered population.

How does a woman in labour get to a health clinic when 70% of roads are unusable during the rainy season? Where do skilled health staff come from when people have been displaced for years and training schools have been closed?

The facts are that South Sudan has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, and the ratio of health workers to people needing services is 1:65,574.

South Sudan is affected by compounding emergencies that make recovery from any single incident extremely difficult.”

Caroline Boyd, Medair’s Head of Country Programme

Medair is an international humanitarian NGO that provides emergency relief and recovery services to families made vulnerable by natural disasters, conflicts, and other crises. Medair is currently active in 12 countries. In Bangladesh, Medair works in partnership with World Concern.

This content was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and Global Support Office staff. The views expressed herein are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organisation.