12 Million Hungry People at the Horn of Africa
Annemarie Ulbrich, Editor of the World Security Network, interviewed Bärbel Dieckmann, President of the Honorary Supervisory Board of Deutsche Welthungerhilfe (German World Hunger Aid), on the topic of agriculture and hunger in Africa. Dieckmann assumed presidency in Nomvember 2009. Before she worked as mayor of the municipality of Bonn from 1994 until 2009.
Annemarie Ulbrich: How do you evaluate the current state of emergency in Africa?
Bärbel Dieckmann: At the Horn of Africa, more than 12 million people are currently affected by the hunger crisis. The situation is particularly severe in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia. In those countries the affected people have no longer the chance to subsist on their own, as the rainfall periods have failed repeatedly and most notably because of the nomads who had to slaughter their animals as they were lacking animal food and water.
Annemarie Ulbrich: In your opinion, to what extent is the political stability within the region a premise for a effective operation of agriculture?
Bärbel Dieckmann: A quarter of the Somali population is currently on the run: over 500.000 people are on their way to Kenya and more than 230.000 people are heading for Ethiopia. Without a peace settlement in their country the people will not return. In all our project countries we experienced that self-reliant food supply is only possible when there are no armed conflicts present. If farmers cannot cultivate their land because they are afraid of combats and land mines, agriculture will not be functioning properly.
Annemarie Ulbrich: How does the Deutsche Welthungerhilfe e.V. currently become involved on site? What kind of difficulties aid workers are confronted with?
Bärbel Dieckmann: By consulting the local and international partner organisations Welthungerhilfe executes emergency relief activities in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. In Kenya we distribute toiletries such as soap, buckets and bowls to about 180.000 people in the Dadaab refugee camp. On a daily basis, we refill cisterns and water tanks at 15 locations in the Eastern part of the country to provide 13.000 people with potable water every day. In Ethiopia we give out food in the most affected regions in the southern and eastern parts of the country. And in Somalia food for a period of six months is distributed to 2.000 people as well.
Annemarie Ulbrich: The United Nations Organization has repeatedly been criticized for buying in on the local products. How can the local agriculture be reinforced? How can help for self-help be effectuated?
Bärbel Dieckmann: Welthungerhilfe buys relief supplies and especially food in all of their projects in the country itself or in neighbouring countries. This particularly strengthens the local markets and helps to shorten the transport paths to a minimum. During the current hunger crisis situations repeatedly reoccur that there is no more food available in Somalia. Each of our emergency relief activities aims already at the next step in the process of reconstruction or self-subsistence to prevent people from being dependent on help on the long run.
Annemarie Ulbrich: How should the European Union assist in the process?
Bärbel Dieckmann: The European Union should also provide financial support for the longterm aid. This has already started but we have to intensify our investments in terms of conserving resources and the adaption of agriculture to the progressing climate change. The absence of rainfall periods must not lead to such a crisis again.
Annemarie Ulbrich: How would you evaluate the role of Germany’s minister of development Dirk Niebel?
Bärbel Dieckmann: The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development has once again massively and significantly increased its support for the victims of the drought. Simultaneously it has come up with financial support for the long-term food security as well which we appreciate explicitly.
Annemarie Ulbrich: About one third of the amount of produced food worldwide is thrown away – according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) this adds up to 1.3 billions of tons every year. In the developing countries incorrect storage plays a decisive role in the waste of aliments. Which approaches to solve the problem do you see? Could new packaging facilities imported from Western countries possibly solve the problem?
Bärbel Dieckmann: All attempts to solve the problems have to take into account the local conditions as well as the domestic potential. The basis of a better exploitation of the domestic products is the improvement of the infrastructure. The regions are often lacking driveable roads and means of transportation to haul the good harvest of one region to the nearby marketplaces.
Annemarie Ulbrich: People have been sceptical towards China’s involvement in Africa based on the country’s dealings and implementation of human rights. How do you assess China’s engagement in the field of development aid?
Bärbel Dieckmann: Welthungerhilfe has nearly 50 years of experience in the field of development cooperation. Our résumé: Only those who help people helping themselves will permanently change the situation in a positive way and therefore offer people the chance to live a self-determined life. A connection too close to one’s own economic interests can therefore be hindering.
Annemarie Ulbrich: In your opinion, why has it taken so long for the problem of hunger and drought to appear in our media?
Bärbel Dieckmann: That there will be a crisis has been obvious to experts since the end of last year as three rainfall periods turned out to be insufficient. Nevertheless everybody still hoped for the most recent rainfall period in June but again, there has been no rain. The resonance of the media has then been initiated by a detailed report executed by the BBC which showed dramatic images of the situation.
Annemarie Ulbrich: Already in 2008 there have been riots caused by hunger in some parts of Africa. Is a comparison possible between the situation then and today? What did change or did not change since then?
Bärbel Dieckmann: The situation today can not be compared with the situation in 2008. At the time, the protests concerned the high prices of basic foods which led people to demonstrate on the streets against those developments. Today we are facing a humanitarian crisis which endangers the existence of 12 million people and which already claimed a great number of victims. Nevertheless, the prices for food are still on a very high level and are therefore additionally aggravating the situation.