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For many of us living in the western hemisphere, the past 10 weeks or so have been a blur of nonstop natural disasters. Ten Atlantic hurricanes, two major earthquakes in Mexico and one of the worst wildfire seasons in U.S. history have dominated news cycles and taken up a disproportionate share of organizational activity and donor public focus.
This surge of activity arrives alongside an array of equally daunting and growing long-term crises throughout the world that require significant attention, careful thought, and enormous resources. Regardless of the immediate news cycle, the need for humanitarian services globally has in many ways never been greater.
Direct Relief, along with colleague and partner organizations, remains deeply committed and involved in a large number of these ongoing events.
For a sense of the scale and scope of contemporary crises, here’s a brief and very partial survey of some of the key locations across the global humanitarian landscape and Direct Relief’s role in response:
Bangladesh: The Cox’s Bazar district in southeastern Bangladesh has seen an influx of nearly a half-million Rohingya Muslim refugees from neighboring Myanmar. Hundreds of thousands more are on the way and arriving daily.
Cox’s Bazar is home to many different refugee settlements. Discussions are now underway to merge a number of the Rohingya areas into what would become the world’s largest refugee camp. Even so, conditions in the camps are reported as being extremely harsh, with overcrowding, infectious disease transmission, poor nutrition, water and sanitation, and lack of physical security. Flooding disasters and the coming Indian Ocean monsoon season compound what is already a dire situation that may become the largest humanitarian crisis in Bangladesh’s history.
Direct Relief is supporting Hope Hospital in Cox’s Bazar, near one of the largest refugee areas, with medical material focused on improving maternal and child healthcare, as well as increased mobile healthcare for the Rohingya.
East Africa: Drought and conflict across the East African region, from Somalia and Ethiopia to South Sudan, Uganda and northern Kenya has produced one of the world’s worst refugee crises, as well as massive increases in reported malnutrition and infectious disease. In northern Uganda, a continuing flood of refugees from South Sudan, now well over a million people, has transformed the rural hamlet of Bidi Bidi into a teeming city of the displaced.
Were it not for the size of the Rohingya crisis, Bidi Bidi would be considered unquestionably the largest refugee camp in the world, by a pretty significant margin.
Direct Relief continues to provide essential medical aid to people in northern Uganda and South Sudan through our partner Real Medicines Foundation, which acts on behalf of UNHCR as the lead healthcare implementer for the Bidi Bidi camp.
Madagascar: A fast-moving outbreak of pneumonic plague has killed 63 people and sickened hundreds of others over the past few weeks. Ordinarily, plague is a vector disease spread through rodents and tends to be restricted to remote areas. In this case, a more serious version is spreading through airborne transmission and is threatening to spread to Madagascar’s cities, evoking urgent comparisons to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
The World Health Organization and Medecins Sans Frontieres emergency health teams have been dispatched to the country, and Direct Relief is in consultation with the country’s ministry of health and the United Nations Populations Fund regarding health commodity needs required to treat plague victims, protect health workers and halt the spread of the disease.
Yemen: A seemingly intractable civil war in the Middle East’s most impoverished country, which has taken on significant regional implications given direct military involvement by countries like Saudi Arabia, has resulted in the world’s largest infectious disease crisis. A massive cholera epidemic continues to tear through Yemeni communities.
The outbreak is nearing 1 million cases, including 600,000 children. Logistical blockades have fueled this crisis, but the World Food Programme and the UN Logistics Cluster have been leading efforts to open up aid flows. Direct Relief continues to work with UN partners to move cholera response kits to healthcare providers including Save the Children.
United States: An epidemic of addiction and overdose from opioid painkillers has arguably become this country’s most pressing public health crisis since the emergence of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over 90 people are dying every day in the United States from opioid overdose, with rates of opioid overdose having increased over 400 percent annually since 2000.
Direct Relief is continuing to work with Pfizer and with community health centers throughout the country to improve awareness of the problem and increase the supply of the life-saving anti-overdose drug Naloxone.
As the unremitting 2017 hurricane season hopefully draws to a close over the next few weeks, Direct Relief will be helping to bring public attention back to these and many other areas of humanitarian work, which require all of us to remain engaged for the long term in improving the lives and well-being of the world’s most vulnerable people.