Löning: We must do all we can to get aid into East Africa (interview)

26.07.2011 - Interview

Interview with Markus Löning, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid. Broadcast on Deutschlandfunk on 26 July 2011


The German Government […] has increased its emergency aid. Nevertheless, it may turn out that it’s not much more than a drop in the ocean. Has the Government failed to recognize the signs of the time?

Ms Amos, the Secretary-General, or rather the Head of OCHA, the UN organization which coordinates aid, has said that she estimates that a total of two billion dollars will be needed and that at present she has about half of that sum. So, at the moment the aid operation isn’t being slowed down because insufficient funds are available. We are following this very carefully and, of course, we are in constant contact with the competent UN organizations on the ground which are either coordinating the aid or carrying out concrete measures. It’ll always have to be decided on the basis of the situation at any given time whether to increase the sum, that’s to say whether more money is required. For instance, Germany has now doubled its aid following the FAO Conference, as has the EU, while the World Bank and others have made considerably larger sums available. I therefore believe it wouldn’t be right to become embroiled in a political dispute about whether funds are being made available fast enough. Rather, we really have to focus now on ensuring that the aid is delivered where it’s needed

It’s not down to the amount of funding which has already been approved but to other reasons, you say, that the aid isn’t reaching people so quickly. What are those reasons?

First of all, the sheer dimensions. It was foreseeable that the situation in these countries was going to become very difficult, but no-one was expecting a disaster on a such a scale. The UN organizations engaged in the region had established food reserves. The World Food Programme had prepared to provide help to this region. However, the sheer magnitude of the disaster has surprised everyone and that’s why we have to work so quickly now to master the situation

Mr Löning, the Islamist rebels in Somalia are still refusing to allow aid into the area under their control. They are clearly holding the civilian population hostage. Are you as optimistic as Ms Langkamp that the pressure will be so strong that the Islamist will back down on this issue?

Southern Somalia is under the yoke of a callous band of henchmen. That’s also one of the reasons why we can’t go into that area with development aid: it’s too dangerous to do anything at all there. What they’re doing is inhuman and we can only appeal to them to allow people to receive the aid to which they’re entitled. This has nothing to do with any religion; this is about showing compassion and letting those who really need aid receive it.

But if you say that these forces are callous, what good will the appeals do?

We’re faced with a terrible situation. We have to do everything to get aid into the region. It seems that talks are being held with these people. And there have been attempts to build up the pressure. But the situation in Somalia – where the state has been disintegrating for the last twenty years into separate areas dominated by groups who are fighting amongst themselves, who are trying to prevent any interference from the outside world – is very difficult and people are now suffering. The food situation is the result of the truly appalling situation in Somalia for the last 20 years.

If there’s no other option, don’t we have to, as it were, enter into a pact with the devil and offer the Islamists something so they’ll finally let the aid in?

Everything possible must be done to get aid into the region. We can’t discuss on the radio all the individual measures that are being taken. But every step needs to be taken to save lives, to save as many women and children as possible.

Mr Löning, the political scene in Germany is very quiet at the moment. Many people are on holiday. How great is the danger that this disastrous famine will simply be forgotten during the summer recess?

I believe two things are important. The first is the immediate aid, and I want to appeal to all your listeners: please think about making a donation to one of the major relief organizations. This is not just about state aid but also about aid provided by individuals for their fellow human beings. And the second is that in the medium and long term we have to undertake greater efforts to continue the policies already launched, such as the development of sustainable farming in Kenya.

That was Markus Löning, the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid, from the FDP. Thank you for talking to us, Mr Löning, and have a nice day.

Thank you very much and the same to you.

The interviewer was Dirk-Oliver Heckmann. Reproduced with the kind permission of Deutschlandfunk.

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