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4 Humanitarian Crises You Haven’t Been Paying Attention to but Should

Displaced refugees in the DRC. (Flickr / Oxfam East Africa)

Between the Sochi Olympics and the crisis in Ukraine, the eyes of the world have been glued to one part of the world for almost a month.

Now we're all waiting to see what Russia's intentions are with regard to Ukraine and Crimea.

But in the meantime, dozens of other conflicts and crises are happening, and people are suffering and fighting for their rights, in other places around the world.

Here are four humanitarian crises you may have forgotten about -- or missed entirely -- while you were focusing on Ukraine or getting distracted by things like amazing Olympians and Oscar winners. But if you care at all about human rights, you'll want to know about them.

Three are in Africa, all bordering on each other. Let's start there.

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1. Central African Republic

What's the conflict?

Last year the president, Francois Bozize, was forced out of office by a group of Muslim rebels known as the Seleka. A rebel leader named Michel Djotodia tried to rule the country for a few months before he too was kicked out of power. Since then, Christian militias have been carrying out reprisal attacks against Muslims, and northerners have been fighting with southerners.

How long has it been going on?

When Bozize was kicked out of power in March 2013, the country started to destabilize.

How many people have been affected?

On last count, about 2,000 people have been killed and almost 1 million have been displaced. That's out of a population of just over 4 million to give you some perspective.

What's happening now?

France has some soldiers on the ground, but the United Nations is considering sending in a bigger peacekeeping force to protect civilians.

Central African Republic refugees

Three small towns of in eastern Cameroon are overrun by people seeking refuge from the slaughter and pillaging in neighboring Central African Republic (CAR). (EC/ECHO/Thomas Dehermann-Roy / Flickr)

It looks like a lot of Muslims have fled north to the border with Chad, which is transforming the country into religiously separated halves (sort of like what caused the split between Sudan and South Sudan).

2. South Sudan

What's the conflict?

South Sudan, the world's youngest country, is dissolving into civil war. The conflict started with a power struggle between South Sudan's president Salva Kiir and his former vice president, Riek Machar.

Machar started a rebellion that has transformed into ethnic fighting between the Dinka and Nuer groups. The government forces are currently causing the most havoc, ethnically cleansing the capital of Juba and razing Machar's hometown. There have also been reports of mass graves discovered around the country.

How long has it been going on?

Since December 2013.

How many people have been affected?

South Sudan

About 10,000 families in South Sudan have received aid like blankets, basins, straw, mosquito nets, pots and pans, and food rations. (EU/ECHO/Ludovico Gammarelli / Flickr)

Roughly 10,000 people have been killed and about 750,000 displaced.

What's happening now?

Several of South Sudan's neighbors are seriously considering sending in troops to enforce a ceasefire that is being pretty much universally ignored. If that fails to happen, the rebels and the government will continue fighting until the next round of peace talks on March 20. Unless that gets postponed for more fighting.

3. Democratic Republic of the Congo

What's the conflict?

The DRC has been in a state of civil war and anarchy since a coup overthrew the president in 1997. The eastern part of the country is effectively controlled by several rebel armies, including Rwandans who fled across the border during the 1994 genocide. Plus, forces from Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe have used the country as a battleground for fighting rebels backed by Uganda and Rwanda.

One army, M23, took over Goma last year. That was just one of dozens of armed groups that have torn the country apart. Sexual violence in the DRC is worse than anywhere else in the world.

How long has it been going on?

Since 1997, making it one of the longest ongoing conflicts in the world.

How many people have been affected?

A girl walks in the courtyard of a project run by the NGO War Child that is supporting and protecting vulnerable girls living and working on the streets of Kinshasa, DRC.

A girl walks in the courtyard of a project run by the NGO War Child that is supporting and protecting vulnerable girls living and working on the streets of Kinshasa, DRC. (Stephanie Dunga/Department for International Development / Flickr)

Approximately 3 million people have died during the conflict and about that many have been displaced. It's sometimes been called Africa's "world war."

What's happening now?

Basically the status quo. Doctors Without Borders just published a report on the full extent of the crisis.

Actor Ben Affleck has made Congo his personal cause, and he's trying to bring more attention to it.

ABC Entertainment News | ABC Business News

He has even testified to Congress and met with Secretary of State John Kerry.

4. Myanmar

What's the conflict?

Buddhists in Myanmar, in Asia, have been persecuting the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group that mostly lives in Rakhine state.

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Egged on by extremists in Rakhine, Myanmar's government has passed numerous laws that restrict the freedoms of Rohingya and prevent them from owning property. The government also recently prohibited Doctors Without Borders from operating in the country, which is a huge blow to the Rohingya, who are barred from receiving medical care in state hospitals.

How long has it been going on?

Myanmar has been fighting ethnic and political rebellions within its borders since 1948, when it was known as Burma. The Rohingya have several small armed groups that have been fighting for years in Rakhine.

How many people have been affected?

Internally displaced Rohingya children in Rakhine State, Myanmar.

Internally displaced Rohingya children in Rakhine State, Myanmar. (Mathias Eick, EU/ECHO / Flickr)

That's a really good question. Ethnic violence in Myanmar is sporadic and ongoing, so it's difficult to keep an accurate tally. But most recently, over 160 people were killed and 170,000 were displaced after several riots in Rakhine at the beginning of February.

What's happening now?

Right now the big fear is that Myanmar's census, scheduled to take place starting on March 30, will anger ethnic groups with provocative questions, or spark fears among Buddhists if the Muslim population seems to be growing. There's a real possibility that we'll see a serious spike in ethnic violence in Myanmar this spring.

And that's not all

Syrian refugee camp

A massive Syrian refugee camp. (Sharnoff's Global Views / Flickr)

There are many other crises around the world, like these:

The civil war in Syria >>

The collapsed government in Mali >>

The ongoing anarchy in Somalia >>

Mexico's horrific drug war >>

The massive protests in Venezuela >>

The state of emergency in Thailand >>

The Muslim insurgency in Nigeria >>


Feel helpless? You're not. Here are some ways you can help.

Like Eastern Congo Initiative on Facebook >>

Donate to UNICEF >>

Volunteer to teach English in the DRC >>

Sign a petition to end ethnic cleansing in Myanmar >>

Volunteer with an NGO in South Sudan >>

Images used under Creative Commons licensing.

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4 Humanitarian Crises You Haven’t Been Paying Attention to but Should

Eli Wolfe

Eli is a freelance writer and researcher in San Francisco and the larger Bay Area. He previously worked for the San Francisco Magazine as an intern and fellow. At UC Santa Cruz, Eli was the managing editor for City on a Hill Press, the student-run weekly newspaper. He’s an early riser who completes more crossword puzzles before 6 a.m. than most people attempt all day. Follow: @eliwolfe4.

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