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"An alliance against Ebola"

21.09.2014 - Interview

In an article published in the Sunday newspaper 'Welt am Sonntag' on 21 September, Foreign Minister Frank‑Walter Steinmeier called for a global alliance against Ebola.

In an article published in the Sunday newspaper 'Welt am Sonntag' on 21 September, Foreign Minister Frank‑Walter Steinmeier called for a global alliance against Ebola.

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Can we in Germany, can the developed world imagine the powerlessness of the people threatened by the deadly Ebola epidemic? How desperate do these people feel when the first member of their family is struck down, and caring for them infects the next person? Every passenger on a packed bus or in a taxi is regarded with suspicion, while people wonder how close they are to death.

At first glance, all this seems so far away – but it is not. If we take a closer look, we quickly realise just how dangerous the situation is. Ebola is spreading, seemingly unstoppably, in West Africa. The virus has had a horrendous impact on society in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. It has already claimed over 2,600 lives – and the number of unreported cases is far higher. Neighbouring countries are doing what they can to prevent a mass spread of the disease. And given their poorly developed public health care systems, it is practically impossible for the affected countries to cope with the increasing numbers of victims.

Here in Germany, we might ask ourselves what Ebola has to do with us. It is true that crises and wars in other parts of the world currently seem to be placing almost too great a strain on our capacities and on those of the international community as it is. And it is not always easy to make decisions. Nevertheless, we cannot simply stand by and watch the Ebola crisis unfold as if it has nothing to do with us. The same applies here as it does in the case of Ukraine and the humanitarian disaster in Syria and Iraq: if we do not act, the consequences will be unforeseeable, also for us here in Germany.

We have received dramatic cries for help in recent days, including from governments. It is clear to us that we cannot simply abandon the people in West Africa – and we will not do so! The Robert Koch Institute and the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine have been working in the affected countries for months, providing diagnostic equipment and staff. The German Government has been quick to respond. So far, it has provided emergency aid and development funding worth double‑digit millions of euros. Just this week, it provided a further five million euros. This funding goes to experienced organisations such as the World Health Organization and Médecins Sans Frontières, which are providing urgently needed help on the ground.

We have made a start, but we are facing a herculean task. Ebola does not only put the lives of many people in West Africa at risk, but also threatens international peace and security. Where death is not already tearing communities apart, panic and marginalisation are undermining the social fabric. The countries hit hardest by the virus are already among the poorest in the world. And now they are faced with harvests rotting in the fields, empty schools, and daily life put on hold. Unstable societies and imploding state structures create the dreadful breeding ground for radicalisation and waves of migration – as well as for war. We have witnessed such terrible things more than once in various parts of the world.

In response to the crisis, the United Nations Security Council has established an extensive emergency mission for West Africa and called on the international community to provide more resources to help overcome the crisis. The European Union is contributing over 200 million euros. US President Obama has also promised extensive aid. The framework for a global community of shared responsibility for combating Ebola is in place, and Germany will be among the countries to provide greater support.

In cooperation with our French allies, we want to set up an international logistics base in the region to support the distribution of aid. Bundeswehr aircraft will form a humanitarian airlift, with up to 100 German soldiers setting up and operating the logistics chain.

The German Government will provide the German Red Cross with financial and logistical support to run a mobile hospital with over 200 beds, as well as two basic health clinics. The Bundeswehr has also offered to transport a field hospital for up to 50 patients to the region and to help set it up. We want to recruit additional medical support staff and to create the prerequisites for a functioning rescue chain.

We are liaising with the international community, trusted partner organisations active in the field of humanitarian assistance and development cooperation, and companies and private initiatives in order to coordinate the delivery of further medical materials and food as needed. If required, the Federal Agency for Technical Relief will also undertake some of the diverse and complex tasks that need to be managed.

We support preventive measures and programmes to train medical staff in the countries affected by the virus. We are investing in top‑level research on treatments and vaccinations; this includes medium‑term investments. And last but not least, we are already laying the groundwork for the phase after the acute crisis, that is, for a new economic start and the creation of a stable health care system.

So the question is certainly not whether we will help, but rather how Germany can contribute to the international efforts in the best, quickest and most enduring way. We are doing a great deal. Nevertheless, I understand that many people feel we are not doing enough, given the terrible images from Africa. But these critics should also take into account that we are confronted with several major humanitarian crises at the same time as a result of the situations in Syria, northern Iraq, eastern Ukraine and the flows of refugees in Lebanon and Jordan.

We also need to make sure that our measures, as well as the support provided by other countries, make sense in the context of international aid. We play a role here as an important and active partner country in the European Union, the United Nations and the G7. I will attend the General Assembly in New York next week. The joint and coordinated fight against Ebola will be a priority for me when I chair the foreign ministers’ meeting of the seven most important industrialised nations in the world next week in New York. One thing is clear. Only a global alliance can prevent the worst in the joint fight against this invisible virus. Germany is part of this alliance, and it is a driving force behind it.

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