ROME — Afghanistan is dominating the news cycle this week, after the Taliban quickly came back to power.
However, the attention might be overshadowing other humanitarian crises affecting the globe.
Though in no way a comprehensive list, here are five stories not making the headlines in most of the world.
The United Nations warned on Monday that hunger is expected to rise in 23 global hotspots in the next three months with the highest alerts for “catastrophic” situations in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region, southern Madagascar, Yemen, South Sudan and northern Nigeria.
Ethiopia is at the top of the list, with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Program stating in their latest report that over 400,000 people face starvation and death in the next 90 days if humanitarian aid isn’t provided.
In South Sudan, three Christian leaders, including a Catholic bishop, are playing a key role in the attempts at forging a lasting peace in this embattled nation. Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, Pope Francis made headlines for the historic gesture of not only inviting the country’s political leaders for a spiritual retreat in the Vatican, but for kneeling down to kiss their feet.
Together with Archbishop Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury and the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, Francis has promised a visit to South Sudan as soon as there’s a lasting government and the sporadic civil war comes to an end.
Terrorism and Religious Persecution
Religious-fueled violence is growing around the world, according to a bi-annual report released earlier this year by the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), not only in Afghanistan.
According to the foundation, around 5.2 billion people live in countries where there are grave violations to religious freedom, including three of the world’s most populous countries: China, India and Pakistan.
Though the sexual violence and forced conversion in Pakistan or the crimes in Nigeria perpetrated by Boko Haram have received plenty of media coverage, the radicalization of much of the African continent, especially in Sub-Saharan and Eastern Africa, has failed to garner much global attention.
Violations of religious freedom – including extreme persecution such as mass killings – are now occurring in 42 percent of all African countries, including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, and Mozambique, all countries where there has been a dramatic increase in the presence of jihadist groups.
If the warning made by the Thomas Heine-Geldern, executive president of ACN, regarding the legitimization of the Taliban emboldening “authoritarian regimes all over the world, spurring increasing violation of religious freedom in their own countries,” the situation is bound to become even more critical.
“International recognition of the Taliban will also act as a magnet for smaller radical Islamic groups, creating a new constellation of religious terrorist factions that could supplant historic formations such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State,” he said. “The situation for Christians and other religious minority communities already suffering oppression, will further deteriorate.”
Violence against women
One woman was killed because of her gender every two hours during 2020 in Latin America, and the region is rapidly becoming the most dangerous in the world to be a woman. In El Salvador this phenomenon is particularly acute, with a rate of 10.2 femicides per 100,000 women in 2017, said the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.
During his visit to Panama in 2019, Pope Francis included the protection of women as a priority for politicians, equating it to the region’s other major problems: He urged Latin America’s leaders to shun corruption and tackle gang violence, drug trafficking and the killing of women, which he said had become a “plague” in his native continent.
Loss of diplomatic ties – and humanitarian aid
When the U.S. troops began withdrawing from Afghanistan, the Taliban quickly seized power, and dozens of embassies closed their doors, with countries summoning their diplomats back home. Though the situation is still evolving, the United States, Britain, Germany, Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Australia, and Spain all moved to evacuate their citizens and close their embassies.
This has left thousands of Afghani citizens who aided these countries stranded, with the Taliban going door to door looking for those who helped Western nations during the past 20 years.
The situation resembles that of Syria, when after the war broke in 2012, dozens of embassies closed – to the extent that at one point, the Vatican’s ambassador in the country, Cardinal Mario Zenari, was the only top diplomat left. Though some countries have since resumed their consular services, most continue to be closed, including those of France, Italy, Germany, the UK, the United States.
Often underreported, the absence of diplomatic representation has a huge impact not only on those trying to flee a country in conflict, but also on the distribution of humanitarian aid and the presence of international NGOs, particularly foreign professionals – such as doctors, nurses and psychologists – always on high demand in conflict regions.
The arms trade
The Holy See has long sounded the voice of alarm when it comes to arms trade and weapons production, with Pope Paul VI famously coining the phrase “never again war, never again,” St. John Paul II questioning the “mutual assured destruction” (MAD) doctrine, and Benedict XVI calling on governments to work for nuclear disarmament.
Yet Pope Francis took the Vatican’s stance on weapons further, saying that those who manufacture weapons cannot call themselves Christians. And in 2019 he blamed both the European and the U.S. weapons industry as the reasons behind many of the world’s ongoing wars.
Though the Vatican’s official transcript edited him – it’s become a semi-common practice – speaking to students and teachers of Milan’s San Carlo Institute Francis said the reason there are so many wars around the world is “the rich Europe and America sell weapons … used to kill children and kill people.”
In countries such as Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria, Pope Francis said, “if they had no weapons, they would not wage a war.”
None of these three countries have the capacity to manufacture weapons, and neither do most African nations where there are ongoing conflicts: They have been manufactured in the U.S., Europe or China.
“The death of every child, of people, the destruction of families, is on the conscience of a people who manufactures arms and sells them,” Francis said.