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Dublin: 13 °C Saturday 30 August, 2014

Column: The forgotten crises that don’t make the evening news still deserve our attention

In marking the 20th Anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, we should also look to conflicts in Central African Republic and South Sudan, writes Joe Costello TD.

Joe Costello

THE RWANDAN GENOCIDE of 1994 was a truly traumatic and horrifying event. During an approximate 100 day period between 7 April and mid-July 1994, an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed. Over two million fled to neighbouring countries and half as many became internally displaced within Rwanda. An estimated 500,000 women were raped.

At the time, the international community failed to stop the terrible events unfolding on the ground. More importantly, in the years before the genocide, the international community did not read the early warning signs of a country in crisis and, as a consequence, was unable to tackle the most pressing problems of Rwandan society: a growing population suffering from chronic poverty, inequality, and weak democratic institutions.

It is important that we continue to publicly acknowledge, 20 years on, the scale and depth of human suffering that occurred in Rwanda, in order to learn lessons for the world we live in today.

Conflict and fragility

Today, conflict and fragility present some of the most urgent challenges to the global community, threatening peace and stability and posing major obstacles to poverty reduction. Many of the drivers of conflict are rooted in development deficits. People in fragile and conflict-affected situations are more than twice as likely to be undernourished as those in other developing countries, twice as likely to see their children die before age five, and more than twice as likely to lack clean water.

World Bank research shows that some countries can get caught in a ‘fragility trap’, a low-level equilibrium with the self-reinforcing features of weak institutions, low investment, slow growth and the possibility of repeated cycles of crisis and violence. Alas, one does not need to look for long to find examples of such ‘fragility traps’.

Central African Republic and South Sudan

Although the Central African Republic has been only hitting the world media headlines in recent months, the country has a long history of instability, coups, and protracted humanitarian crises since its independence from France in 1960. Like Rwanda 20 years ago, it is clear that the escalation of the crisis in December 2013 emerged from years of endemic poverty, underdevelopment, weak democratic institutions and neglect by the international community.

The experience in the Central African Republic is not unique – it is an example of the types of crises the world is increasingly witnessing. In South Sudan, the newest but also one of the poorest states in Africa, communities have suffered from years of conflict and underdevelopment, combined with seasonal flooding, frequent dry spells, recurring outbreaks of disease and ongoing pockets of conflict. The country lacks the most basic of services such as safe water, sanitation facilities and health services. The most recent outbreak of conflict in South Sudan, which began in December 2013, is a further manifestation of its lack of development and the extreme fragility of the country and its people.

The fleeting interest of international media

Both the Central African Republic and South Sudan are examples of so called ‘forgotten crises’ where global attention and political engagement is driven by the fleeting interest of international media, which is often short-lived, superficial and insufficiently focused on dealing with the underlying drivers as well as the longer term consequences of fragility.

Learning from our work in countries such as Rwanda, Ireland’s Policy for International Development ‘One World One Future’, seeks to ensure that Ireland’s efforts remain focused on those countries where the needs are greatest and human rights are most at risk. We have therefore intensified our humanitarian and development efforts in fragile and conflict affected situations, making this one of six priority areas for action for the Irish Government’s international development programme.

I am proud to be able to say that Ireland, through the government’s overseas development programme, Irish Aid, has long been supporting humanitarian interventions in the Central African Republic. In fact, Ireland has been one of the top 10 international donors to the Central African Republic since 2007. We have provided €14.5 million to meet the needs of a very vulnerable population since 2008. Earlier this year, in response to the dramatic deterioration of the situation, I approved an allocation of €3 million to UN and NGO partners in order to meet the immediate lifesaving needs of a severely distressed population.

These crises very often do not make the evening news

Likewise, Ireland has been providing humanitarian support to communities in South Sudan for many years. In 2013 alone Ireland provided €4 million in humanitarian funding to South Sudan with further funds committed for 2014.

Furthermore, Ireland has a long-standing focus and commitment to other protracted and underfunded crises such as those in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, and the countries of the Sahel. These crises very often do not make the evening news, or fall off the political and humanitarian agendas of the international community.

Alongside the provision of predictable funding to such crises, we take every opportunity, including through our multilateral and bilateral relations, to bring the attention of the international community to these situations.

In marking the 20th Anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, I want to highlight these forgotten crises and take the opportunity to reaffirm Ireland’s commitment to supporting communities in these fragile and conflict affected situations to alleviate suffering, build their resilience and reduce the level and impact of violence.

Joe Costello TD, Minister for Trade and Development

Minister for Trade and Development Joe Costello TD will address a Seminar on Humanitarian Practice to mark the 20th Anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide at 1.45 PM in the Royal Irish Academy tomorrow, Thursday 10 April.

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Read: 20 Years On: What have we learned from Rwanda?

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