Somalia, Congo among 'Top 10' world crises

Image: An FDLR soldier walks toward a distribution center near Lushubere Camp in Masisi in the DRC
A soldier walks toward a distribution center on Dec. 19, near Lushubere Camp in Masisi, northwest of Goma, in Congo. T.J. Kirkpatrick / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Spiraling violence in Somalia, forced civilian displacements in eastern Congo, and neglected medical emergencies in Myanmar and Zimbabwe were among the Top 10 humanitarian crises of 2008, according to an annual list released Sunday by Doctors Without Borders.

Other crises on the group's list included: malnutrition, which claims 5 million young lives across the globe each year; HIV-tuberculosis co-infections, killing some 1.7 million people annually; fighting in Pakistan's tribal areas; the politicization of aid distribution in Iraq; violence and harsh climatic conditions in southeastern Ethiopia's Somali region; and the continuing Darfur crisis and civil war in Sudan.

"With the release of this list, we hope to focus much needed attention on the millions of people who are trapped in conflict and war, affected by medical crises, whose immediate and essential health needs are neglected, and whose plight often goes unnoticed," Dr. Christophe Fournier, the group's International Council President, said in a statement.

List intends to raise awareness
Paris-based Medecins Sans Frontieres, also known by its English name Doctors Without Borders, began issuing the annual list in 1998 after a devastating famine in southern Sudan went largely unnoticed by the U.S. media. The list, which does not rank the crises by order of importance, seeks to foster greater awareness of crises that may not receive adequate attention in the press.

The humanitarian group said Somalia experienced some of the worst violence in over a decade in 2008, aggravating problems in a country whose collapsed health system means one in 10 women die during childbirth and one in five children die before their fifth birthday.

In eastern Congo, renewed fighting between the government and various armed groups has sent hundreds of thousands of people scurrying into the jungle, leaving them with little or no access to health care, food, water or shelter, the group said.

Cyclone Nargis, which left an estimated 130,000 people dead or missing, brought an outpouring of international aid to Mynamar, but diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria are all but ignored by the military government even as they claim tens of thousands of lives each year, the group said.

Life expectancy plummets in Zimbabwe
In Zimbabwe, the group cited the economic collapse under long-time President Robert Mugabe. It said the 231 million percent inflation rate has left many people unable to afford even the bus fare needed to visit a clinic in a country where two million people are infected with HIV/AIDS and life expectancy has plummeted to just 34 years.

Humanitarian efforts in Iraq are frustrated by the politicization of aid distribution by military and political forces, making charitable organizations the targets of violent attacks in a country where some 4 million people have been displaced by war, the report said.

"In some of these places, it is extremely difficult for aid groups to access populations requiring help," Fournier said. "Where we are able to provide assistance, we have a special responsibility to bear witness and speak out about intolerable suffering and draw attention to basic humanitarian needs."

MSF is a humanitarian organization providing emergency medical assistance to populations in danger in 70 countries around the world.