Every year at this time the media reflects on the importance of the events of the past twelve months. While there are items of significance that will be hashed out on editorial pages or in blog comments sections, things really begin to heat up when the best of and worst of lists start to make their appearances in entertainment sections. These days top (and worst) ten lists of everything from movies to cell phones from the previous year are produced by anyone with access to a computer and the Internet.
While some of the news stories that appear in lists aren't always cheerful, the majority of them are events that we are familiar with and that won't cause us to lose any sleep at night. Unfortunately there is one list, now entering its eleventh anniversary, of which neither of those two statements are applicable. Every year since 1998, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) have issued a top ten list of the past year's worst humanitarian crises. For the most part these situations have boiled over into crisis status because they have gone largely unreported in the press and aid agencies are not being supported in their efforts to take care of those affected.
For those of you unfamiliar with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), they are an international medical humanitarian organization created by doctors and journalists in France in 1971. MSF provides aid to people whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect, or catastrophe due to armed conflict, epidemics, malnutrition, exclusion from health care, or natural disasters. They provide independent and impartial assistance to those who are most in need and reserve the right to speak out to bring attention to neglected crises, to challenge inadequacies or abuse of the aid system, and to advocate for improved medical treatments and protocols. In 1999 their efforts were recognized when they were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the work have done to make the world a slightly more caring place.
Needless to say as a completely independent body with no alliances to any religion, military, or government, they tend to piss people off all over the world as they don't care who they criticize. They adhere strictly to a system based on the humanitarian principles of medical ethics and impartiality, so they don't set any stock by anybody's political or social agendas. It's probably because of this that MSF has usually been one step ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to getting the word out about humanitarian disasters. In 1985 they warned about the Ethiopian government's forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of its population that preceded the famine in '85; in 1994 they called for military intervention in Rwanda in response to the ongoing genocide; in 1995 they condemned the Serbian massacre of civilians at Srebrenica; they denounced the Russians for their bombardment of the Chechen capital Grozny in 1999; more recently they called for international attention to the crisis in Darfur in 2004 and 2005 at the UN Security Council.
Since 1998 they have been using their "top ten" lists of humanitarian crises to let the world know of the situations that are the most dire and where people are most affected. This year's list is no exception to the previous ones in that there has been little or no mention of any of these situations in the mass media, nor has there been any concentrated effort made to alleviate the crises. One thing each of these circumstances has in common is that they are all ongoing, preventable, and in most cases occurring because aid workers are being prevented from assisting those in need.
This past year's top ten ongoing humanitarian crises according to Médecins Sans Frontières are: the worsening humanitarian crises in Somalia; a critical need of assistance required in Ethiopia's Somali Region; critical health needs remaining unmet in Myanmar; civilians being killed and displaced due to intensive fighting in Northwest Pakistan; the health crises sweeping Zimbabwe as violence and economic collapse spreads; no end in sight to the violence and suffering in the Sudan; civilians trapped by war raging in Eastern Congo; civilians in Iraq in urgent need of assistance; there are still millions of malnourished children throughout the world despite advances in lifesaving nutritional therapies; and the rise of tuberculosis as a cause of death among people living with HIV/AIDS.
Unlike other lists this one doesn't celebrate anything except our failure as a species to look after our fellows and our ability to look the other way. If you have any doubts as to the importance of this list, you only need to look back to the crises that MSF has warned the world about in the past to be reminded about the consequences of inaction. This is one top ten list that can't just be dismissed as a typical exercise in end of the year rumination. Please take the time to follow the links in the list above, and maybe even forward them to a local aid agency or political representative. Although I enjoy top ten lists as much as anyone, this is one, as I'm sure you'd agree, that I would happily see made obsolete.