Ambon Refugees, 1999Â
Lately I’ve been wondering a good bit – from far away, of course – about what stateside Americans think of the whole Syria thing.
I don’t mean, “do they think America should get involved,” because that’s a different matter altogether. I just wonder what, in general, people think of 100,000 people who will never see their parents, or siblings, or children again, the government’s bombing of schools, or the siege on entire cities that are causing people to die of starvation. I can’t help but wonder if it’s all internalized like a movie. Like everyone will get up and walk off set at the end. (Spoiler: they don’t.)
But then I realize I’m attuned to the Syria thing because I live around Syrians (who have lost family members and have no home to return to) and am considering moving to Lebanon (which is currently hosting some 1 million Syrian refugees). So I easily recognize Syrians as real, hurting people.
As I’ve read about the Syrian humanitarian crisis, though, other crises have crossed my path that I (shamefully) knew nothing about, like the 5 million people who’ve died in the Congo crisis of the last fifteen years (a death toll averaging 330,000 people a year) and the 2.5 million people who, according to Oxfam, currently need “immediate aid” there. Nor did I know about Mali or Myanmar and others.
In the end, I’m guessing this issue of not knowing is a big piece of things. I know and care because I’m closer and am more aware. There are things – a lot of other things – that I’m farther away from and either don’t know about or have decided I’m not spending my “caring energy” in that direction.
But coming around to the point…
What is a Humanitarian Crisis?
As I was turning this over in my head, I realized I wasn’t sure what, technically speaking, made something a “humanitarian crisis”. What’s the difference between a natural disaster, or a civil war, or a famine and a humanitarian crisis?
So I consulted the “BOI” (the dude calls the web-via-computer – the “Box Of Information”), and found the most straightforward explanation from the Humanitarian Coalition of Canada. They explain:
A humanitarian crisis is an event or series of events which represents a critical threat to the health, safety, security or wellbeing of a community or other large group of people, usually over a wide area. Armed conflicts, epidemics, famine, natural disasters and other major emergencies may all involve or lead to a humanitarian crisis that extends beyond the mandate or capacity of any single agency.
In short, a humanitarian crisis is when a difficult situation for a large number of people over a wide area grows or compounds to the extent that one particular branch of help (like food aid only, or medical aid only) is not enough.
This sounds much tidier, though, than the realities of people displaced, lacking shelter and food, who are at high risk for other problems like illness or being caught in an armed conflict.
Can you imagine walking away from your home today with a backpack and never seeing it again? Oh, and maybe getting herded by militia on your way out of town? Oh, and maybe watching your child die next month because you were no longer able to feed him? That’s more the face of humanitarian crises.
In tidy language it is the compounding of events beyond simple solutions. To real people, it’s trading in your whole entire life for an unknown that you may not live to see.
Quick side note: don’t go Googling this unless you’re in the mood to get real shaken up. Just saying.
Did you already know what comprised a humanitarian crisis? Do you have anything to add or clarify? I’m (obviously) learning, so please share your information or experience!
This post is part of this month’s humanity series.