One of the harsh realities of the humanitarian field is that some crises capture public attention, while others do not. The patterns are rather rigid. Crises in Europe and the Middle East, especially Palestine, make headlines. Large-scale natural disasters, even in obscure places, attract interest due to the inherent human fascination with immense forces beyond our control. But crises due to “complex” political conflicts outside the zones of proven public engagement are doomed to obscurity, unless it rises to such a level that “genocide” (read “another Holocaust”) can be invoked.
|As of January 27th, not even Relief Web was listing Sri Lanka as an on-going crisis on its home page.|
The contrast between Gaza and Sri Lanka prompts these observations. In Gaza, despite restrictions on international humanitarian and media access imposed by the Israelis, the whole world was watching, counting the civilian casualties minute-by-minute, while the global debate swirled on the legitimacy of Israeli and Hamas conduct in the light of international humanitarian law. The conflict and the suffering that it engendered were daily front page news. Now, with at least a temporary halt in hostilities, assessments of the damage in Gaza will proceed and donors will pledge millions of dollars for the rebuilding process.
While Gaza was the world’s focus, a conflict that raises similar issues and challenges was proceeding in the Vanni region in the north of Sri Lanka. There, the Sri Lankan military is trying to deal the final death blow to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the guerilla movement that has been fighting for an independent state for the country’s Tamil minority in the northern part of the island. As in Gaza, civilians are trapped. Approximately 250,000 people are caught in the conflict zone, people who have already been displaced numerous times and have suffered from the perpetual difficulty of sustaining humanitarian assistance as the 25-year civil war has dragged on.
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Joel R Charny is vice president for policy with Refugees International, a Washington-based humanitarian advocacy organisation. He has extensive experience in Asia for RI, Oxfam America and the U.N. Development Programme. He has managed and assessed emergency response and post-conflict recovery programmes in Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.Recommend this Post