The World is Bleeding… Don’t Look Away

Lina AbiRafeh
8 min readMar 21, 2024


Photo credit goes to SutoriMedia on Pixabay.

This piece was written together with Kit Nicholson.

These days, all of my attention is hyperfocused on Palestine. I cannot eat or sleep without thinking about the relentless genocide in Gaza. Because they do not eat or sleep.

The death toll in Gaza has risen to 31,726 with an estimated 73,792 injured. Violence in the West Bank is escalating more and more every day, and the looming man-made (Israeli and American) famine in Gaza has already killed 27 children. Even as I type these figures, they’ve increased.

At the same time, the world is full of atrocities. Peace is scarce — seemingly impossible. The insatiable quest for power continues nearly unabated, no matter who it kills in its pursuit. There’s an epidemic of violence, and I’m trying to keep focus on as much of it as I can digest in these dark and difficult days.

It is impossible to list everything, but I’m thinking of specific countries where I’ve lived and worked and others I try to support from a distance. Places like Haiti, Afghanistan, and Sudan along with other major conflicts around the world — to make sure that we are actively holding space and advocating for everyone as much as we can.

I want to do both — remain steadfast in my focus on Palestine and also remain concerned about other places around the world. My heart is big enough to exist in multiple spaces at once.

Because, well, in the words of American civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer: “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

The 2024 Emergency Watchlist by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) highlights 20 countries across the globe that face the greatest threat of humanitarian emergency and catastrophe. From Burkina Faso to Niger, more than half of these 20 localities have a majority Black population. Yet, how often have we seen Sudan, Congo, or Haiti talked about on the news or on social media? How often are we updated on the situation on the ground in these countries? What about the political context and our own role in the ongoing violence?

I remain incredibly thankful and inspired by the relentless mass demonstrations the world over for Palestine these past six months. At the same time, I don’t want to lose focus on other places. It’s impossible to summarize them all, but here are a few we should care about.

Unless otherwise specified, most of the following data has been synthesized from two reliable sources in the know: The IRC 2024 Emergency Watchlist and Human Rights Watch World Report 2024.


While the economic situation in the country has gotten marginally better since 2023, just over 23 million people — 55% of the population — still remain in dire need of humanitarian assistance. Nearly half of the country lives at or below the international poverty line and an increasingly unstable climate threatens the lives and livelihoods of those most vulnerable. Recent earthquakes and floods have rocked and further destabilized the country. Crop production and food supplies in the north and northeast regions have dropped dramatically which has led to increasing levels of food insecurity.

Since the Taliban came back to power in 2021, the rights of women and girls within the country have been the most severely affected. In addition to mandatory face veiling, women must be accompanied by a male chaperone in most places and are forbidden from attaining any secondary or higher education. Over 60,000 women lost their jobs as the government forcefully closed all beauty salons, a key place of female employment. In addition, recent tensions with neighboring countries such as Pakistan has forced around 500,000 Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan to return home.

I’ve written a few books and many blogs on this incredibly special place. It deserves our full attention. See a few other pieces here and here.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The country houses Africa’s largest number of internally displaced people — nearly seven million Although the DRC has been on the IRC watchlist for over ten years, the current and fragile government has done little to ease the suffering of its people. The DRC also houses the world’s largest number of people in need of humanitarian assistance — over 25 million.

Over 120 armed groups are reported to be operating within the eastern parts of the country. M23, a Rwanda-backed militia, has been at the forefront of much of this violence against government forces. Meanwhile, excessive police violence has increased in the capital Kinshasa as the government cracks down on the freedoms of speech and assembly. All forms of sexual violence are rampant, and continue with relative impunity.

A recent interview with a Congolese woman once again exposes the horrors to the world. In her words:

“After they killed him [my husband], they cut off his legs and private parts. They cooked the body parts and told me to eat it. They told me that if I didn’t sleep with all of them, they were going to kill me.”

This story, like many others, has been met with relative silence.


Ethiopia was once in the news for active clashes between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in the northern region of the country. In 2022, the two parties signed a ceasefire agreement that is tentatively still lasting. However, Ethiopia remains a hotspot because successive years of crippling droughts have decimated the resiliency of communities in southern regions. With El Niño on the horizon, the country expects massive flooding to compound the struggles of these already fragile communities.

Approximately 20 million people remain in need of humanitarian assistance. And other clashes in the regions of Oromia and Amhara threaten to spill over. Already, human rights groups are noting hundreds of civilian casualties and a weak judicial system that leaves perpetrators unaccountable.

More than 90,000 refugees from Ethiopia living in Sudan recently made their way back into Ethiopia as the situation in Sudan deteriorated rapidly this past year. Food insecurity and gender-based violence continue to be the country’s most pressing issues.

Despite a truce in Tigray, women in the region have been continually forced into sexual slavery, and many reports of Eritrean forces raping and assaulting Tigrayan women and girls continue to come to light. Gender-based violence in the region is being perpetrated along ethnic lines with women being targeted for being simply Tigrayan.

Here is my old post on Ethiopia — the situation has only gotten worse since then.


Two major incidents have put this country into the spotlight once again. After a mass prison break in early March of this year by some of the more than 300 armed street gangs that currently hold more power than the weak central government (and hold 80% of the capital of Port-au-Prince), the interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry agreed to step down citing the chaos in the country as his motivating factor. Henry was forced to power in 2021 after the assassination of the ex-President Jovenel MoÏse which left the already-unstable country in even greater turmoil. The country’s neighbor, the Dominican Republic, also recently returned almost 100,000 people to Haiti, although some were Dominican citizens.

The Haitian government has a barely functioning political system which cannot meet the needs of its people. More than 40% of the country faces regular food insecurity and access to reliable electricity, education, and sanitation is limited. In October of 2023, the United Nations authorized a Kenyan-led stabilization mission to the country that has yet to materialize because of various concerns about the legality of such an action and the harm an influx of more armed personnel might mean to civilians.

For Haitian women, the country’s instability only leads to more challenges. Haiti currently has a total ban on abortion, but a revised penal code going into place this year will allow it in cases of medical necessity and up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. It’s not perfect, but it’s progress. Between January and May of 2023, MSF treated over 1,000 survivors of violent sexual assault — more than double the amount of the previous year in the same time period. As Haiti returns to instability, it is Haitian women and girls who bear the brunt.


News about Iran once flooded our screens after the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the country’s morality police in September 2022. Since then, the rest of the world has moved on to other issues, but the situation in Iran remains grave. The government continues to crack down on women’s rights, freedom of expression, and assembly of its citizens.

The rights of women and girls remain severely restricted and under fire. Girls aged 13 and under are still legally allowed to be married. Similarly, according to Human Rights Watch, over 165 women have been reported as being murdered by their male partner since 2021 — an average of one every 4 days. Since the Women, Life, Freedom protests, human rights groups have been investigating the death of over 500 protestors — 68 of whom were children.

All because we are not seeing news on Iran does not mean that things are ok. See my other articles on Iran here and here.


Sudan finds itself embroiled in a civil war between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). In less than a year, the number of people in dire need of humanitarian assistance rose from 15.8 million to 24.8 million, a majority of whom are women and girls. For reference, that’s the equivalent of the entire country of Austria descending into chaos in only 12 months. Bombs and heavy artillery are commonplace in civilian/urban areas and the United Nations estimates that 9,000 people have been killed since the beginning of the conflict in April 2023.

To make matters worse, a genocide is playing out in Darfur as the majority Arab RSF attacks the indigenous Massalit population. Fractures like this are playing out throughout the country as the population is divided along ethnic lines. With cities and urban centers acting as playgrounds for militants and more than 70% of the critical health infrastructure damaged during the war, experts are warning of critical failure of the country’s vital systems as famine and disease increase dramatically.

Women make up the majority of the 1.3 million refugees that have fled the country to other neighboring states. Similarly, UN experts have already verified that a majority of the gender-based sexual violence happening in Khartoum and Darfur is specifically along ethnic lines. That is, women are becoming targets of sexual assault simply because of their ethnicity as Massalit.

Everywhere else…

There are many more places in need of our attention, advocacy, and support. These humanitarian catastrophes are overwhelming. And we know too well from experience that in insecure contexts, women and girls suffer more.

The numbers themselves are shocking. How do we begin to help when the need is in the tens of millions?! There’s a risk that all these figures blur together and people’s lived experiences get lost. It seems far easier to shrug and do nothing. But I don’t think so. Activism is about intent — actively centering our humanity and compassion in our analysis and understanding of world politics. Sure, it’s ugly. But we cannot look away.

At the same time, it is important to critically examine how each of these countries ties into the fabric of Empire. Much as we know that the US’s new “temporary” dock along Gaza’s coastline has nothing to do with the delivery of humanitarian aid and all to do with advancing US interests in the region, we know that the instability of these countries only furthers the agenda of the powers that be.

With our attention and advocacy, one day that balance will tip in our favor. It’s starting to change already…



Lina AbiRafeh

Global women's rights activist, author, speaker, aid worker with 3 decades of global experience - and lots to say! More on my website: