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Berlin Humanitarian Call – Standing Together Against Famine

Article by Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, published in the “Berliner Morgenpost” of 12 April 2017 and elsewhere

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We all remember clearly the horrifying images of the food crisis that struck East Africa a few years ago: underfed infants and small children, families who had lost their herds and thus had no food and no income, parched fields, old people too weak to search for food and water. This could happen again in 2017. People around the world are even now at risk of acute malnutrition. More than 100 million people are starving and in need. The situation is particularly acute in north‑eastern Nigeria, the Horn of Africa and Yemen – veritable famines are looming there. The United Nations has already declared a state of famine in some regions of South Sudan. More than 20 million people are affected in these four crisis areas alone. According to the United Nations, roughly 5.6 billion US dollars are needed for humanitarian relief measures in Nigeria, South Sudan, Yemen and Somalia in order to avert a catastrophe – and of that, 4.4 billion dollars are urgently needed by the middle of the year. By way of comparison, that’s a good 0.25% of global arms expenditure in 2015!

The UN warnings are alarming and have to rouse the international community to action.

The situation has already deteriorated over the past year: rains have failed, and the El Niño effect has led to widespread crop failures and rising prices. The extreme food scarcity is however also caused by the worsening political crises in South Sudan and Yemen and by the continued activities of terrorist organisations – Boko Haram in parts of Nigeria and Al‑Shabaab in Somalia. This increases the pressure on these fragile regions and people who have no way of building up any reserves. They are now dependent on rapid assistance to meet their most basic needs for drinking water, food and hygiene, for example. Farmers are no longer able to tend their fields because the ground is too dry, because they have sold their tools and because there are no seeds available. Even now, children have stopped attending school and instead have to walk for days to collect water. They are defenceless in the face of the violence that surrounds them. 

The German Government has not been caught unawares by the crises. Already last year we doubled our humanitarian assistance for Africa, in particular for Nigeria, South Sudan and the Somalia crisis, to 270 million euros. In light of the dramatic situation in Yemen, we increased our assistance to 33 million euros in 2016. This money was used by aid organisations to provide food and drinking water, to combat malnutrition in small children, to provide basic health care for people in need, to continue to provide for refugees in camps even under conditions of extreme drought, to enable children to go to school, to prevent livestock from perishing, and to make it possible to continue farming.

For aid measures to be undertaken on this scale, it is essential that the United Nations is able to act. The German Government thus supports the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) which pays for quick and targeted aid measures in such crisis situations. In 2016 alone, we made 50 million euros available to CERF.

Germany is one of the biggest humanitarian donors worldwide and does what it can to enable people affected by crisis, violence or catastrophe to survive in dignity.

Germany’s increased international responsibility also has to be reflected in the Government’s humanitarian assistance. We will take this to heart this year, too.

But I also have to say that Germany cannot avert these catastrophes alone. The international community must stand strong and work closely together. That is why we hold frequent talks with other donors and with aid organisations. Other donors have to live up to their responsibilities, too and make available more resources and step up their commitment to humanitarian assistance.

That is why I convened a meeting in Berlin today together with the major aid organisations. Our Berlin Humanitarian Call is intended as a wake‑up call for the international community.

Food crises are not spontaneous natural disasters. We have to increase people’s resilience to make sure that such crises are not repeated. And we have to work together with our partners to step‑up our political commitment to resolving the crises and continue to foster stability in the fragile regions. A whole package of short, medium and long‑term measures is needed to prevent crises on this scale in the future.

But right now we have to assume more responsibility in order to face up to the growing challenges. Starvation will not wait for a political settlement. Only by providing swift humanitarian assistance can a catastrophe of even greater proportions be averted. 

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