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Lest we forget

Why wars and crises are often so quickly forgotten – and what aid organisations can do to prevent it

Humanitäre Hilfe
© dpa

Ukraine, Yemen, Myanmar – many crises eventually disappear from public view, although the people concerned continue to face hardship and need. Johann Sid Peruvemba, Vice Secretary General of Malteser International, the Order of Malta Worldwide Relief, and Board Member of VENRO, an association of development and humanitarian aid NGOs in Germany, talks about forgotten crises and assistance for people in need.

Johann Sid Peruvemba
Johann Sid Peruvemba

Mr Peruvemba, when we talk about “forgotten crises” who is forgetting them? Only the public or also the people who could help?
In fact, it is primarily the public that is meant – and in part also politics. Another group, on the other hand, definitely never forgets these crises – those affected themselves. The good news is that today there are fewer forgotten crises than before. We now have a more or less universal humanitarian system – at least, when it comes to observation and analysis. That doesn’t necessarily mean that enough help can be provided everywhere. Support is often difficult because of a lack of funding or access.

The war in Syria would also have been forgotten after a while if no refugees had come to Europe.
Johann Sid Peruvemba, Malteser International

Why are crises forgotten?
I see three main reasons for this. The first: the initial shock is over. Particularly in the event of natural disasters, such as earthquakes, initially the public is very concerned and people’s readiness to make donations is huge. It is human nature, however, not to permanently pay attention to crises of this kind. The second typical development is that an acute need becomes a chronic one. This often leads to an attitude of resignation based on the maxim: “We can’t do anything about it anyway.” Third, crises are soon forgotten if they have no or only very small impacts on our personal lives. The war in Syria would also have been forgotten after a while if no refugees had come to Europe.

Where are there forgotten crises?
For example, in Ukraine. The situation there continues to be dramatic, but we have somehow grown accustomed to it. The Muslim Rohingya people in Myanmar continue to suffer seriously from repression and persecution, but their hardship seems very far away. Or let us take Yemen: even aid organisations find the situation there difficult because there is a lack of functioning structures.

What do German aid organisations do to stop these crises being forgotten?
We have launched the #nichtvergesser initiative with the Federal Foreign Office that enables us to draw attention to the affected regions. In addition, we ask donors to plan a specific percentage of their budget for forgotten crises. That is an incentive for humanitarian actors to become active in these countries.

What can ordinary people do?
People who want to give financial support to aid organisations can make a donation without specifying its purpose – this can then also be used to benefit people in countries that are not in the spotlight of attention at a particular time.


World Humanitarian Day on 19 August #NotATarget