In 1985, there was Live Aid, a live concert with a global audience of 1.9 billion across 150 nations, organized by the Irish singer-songwriter Bob Geldof to benefit Ethiopian famine relief. Millions of dollars was raised. A decade earlier, as a former Beatle, George Harrison gathered musician friends for “the Concert for Bangladesh” — actually two concerts — which made the world aware of the destruction caused by a 1970 cyclone and atrocities related to a civil war. More recently were benefits for victims of Haitian earthquakes and Asian tsumanis.
Today, the U.S. State Department counts three major humanitarian crises: In Syria, in the Central African Republic and in the world’s newest nation, South Sudan.
But only the tragedy in Syria is receiving much media attention, and thousands of children may die as a result, according to Nancy Lindborg, assistant administrator for the Bureau of Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance in the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Moreover, she said, the inattention poses a security threat to the United States.
Lindborg was one of several State Department officials who spoke Monday at an all-day briefing for 14 members of the Association of Opinion Journalists. The diplomats were asked their observations on the American news media’s coverage of their areas of expertise.
“A number of NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] reported that they raised more money for the Philippines typhoon in the first week or so after it hit of than they have in the entire Syria crisis, and we’re seeing a similar lack of private fund raising for Central Africa and South Sudan,” she said. “We know that it’s really complicated when you have a complex crisis. There are often unclear lines about good guys and bad guys.“
Lindborg continued, “America’s voice matters.” In 2011 and 2012, famine struck Somalia on the Horn of Africa, and “125,000 children died when they didn’t have to. South Sudan will teeter [into something similar] if they don’t get assistance now.” Media attention brings funds to nongovernmental relief organizations, saves lives and guards against leaving swaths of territory unprotected and lawless, leaving them to become breeding grounds for worldwide terrorism.
“It matters whether you’re a kid in Syria or South Sudan to know that the world cares,” Lindborg added. Moreover, the attention builds goodwill. Lindborg said she encountered a man in Bosnia who remains grateful for assistance the United States rendered in World War II. “I remember when the Americans came in with Eisenhower to help us out,” she quoted him as saying.
And on a more humanitarian level, Lindborg said, “Need is need whether it is domestic or overseas. It’s important for the public to be involved, to know that it matters that a kid in South Sudan is teetering” between starvation and health.