NGOs in emergency response mode amid global conflicts

Since the outbreak of civil war in December 2013, more than 2 million people have been displaced in South Sudan. [Rosenthal/Welthungerhilfe]

Wars in Syria, South Sudan and in the Central African Republic are posing new challenges to development NGOs, causing Germany’s Welthungerhilfe and resort to unconventional measures. EURACTIV Germany reports.

In light of a rapid increase in armed conflicts across the globe, German NGO Welthungerhilfe says it is becoming a last-minute assistance provider.

“The number of people dependent on humanitarian aid hit a tragic new record last year,” explained the organisation’s president Bärbel Dieckmann on Tuesday (23 June) at a presentation of the 2014 yearly report in Berlin.

“We must intervene more and more strongly in places where politics have failed,” Dieckmann said.

Last year, Welthungerhilfe considerably expanded its involvement, with most aid funds going to countries like Syria, South Sudan or the Central African Republic – where civil war has created devastating starvation crises.

Overall, financial contributions to foreign projects increased from around €140 million in 2013 to more than €180 million.

Most of the money comes from public donors, including the German Foreign Office (AA), the Federal Development Ministry (BMZ) and the Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW), a development bank based in Frankfurt.

Latent emergency conditions in Syria

For the first time, Syria was the country receiving the highest funding for development projects last year. “The conditions in Syria are comparable to the mountains of ruins in Germany after the Second World War,” Dieckmann pointed out.

Turkey, alone, has already accepted 2 million refugees, half of them under 18 years old. Welthungerhilfe has supplied refugees in Turkey and northern Iraq with food, aid packets for the cold winter, ovens, tents and building insulation, the organisation’s president said.

In Syria itself, Welthungerhilfe can no longer act on its own nor with other international aid workers, she said. The situation in the country is too dangerous, the NGO president added.

Instead, the aid organisation coordinates its work from Turkey in close cooperation with Syrian NGOs. This is how it supports around 11 provisional schools in Aleppo, for example, Dieckmann pointed out.

“The challenges in Syria have become even more difficult compared to previous years, due to the fragile security situation. We do not even know for sure whose hands our provisions end up in,” Dieckmann said. “The catastrophe in Syria will follow us for many years to come.”

“Survival assistance” in South Sudan

Victims of other armed conflicts, such as in South Sudan or in the Central African Republic, receive massive support from Welthungerhilfe.

“There are more and more refugees worldwide, who must leave their homes and who lose their livelihoods,” Dieckmann explained. In many places, she said, Welthungerhilfe provides “survival assistance”.

Since December 2013, conflicts in South Sudan have displaced around 2.1 million people, nearly 550,000 of which fled to neighbouring countries.

Approximately 650,000 refugees are currently living without any kind of humanitarian support because aid organisations were forced to withdraw from the region.

Rapid mobilisation through a new crisis reaction plan

Like other NGOs active in classic development cooperation, Welthungerhilfe is searching for new answers to the multiplying number of conflicts in the world.

Though its work is still based on long-term development cooperation, the NGO is increasingly active in humanitarian emergencies, stated Till Wahnbaeck, chairman of Welthungerhilfe.

In response to the rapidly increasing number of warlike conflicts in the world, Welthungerhilfe created its own crisis reaction headquarters last year.

“We have assembled a new team that does nothing but prepare for crises. It is a mobilisation tool that makes it possible for us to promptly react and intervene in current conflicts,” Wahnbaeck explained.

The NGO is also increasingly portraying itself publicly as a quick aid provider in emergencies, something that is urgently needed, the organisation said. Famine, for instance, is a common occurrence in countries with widespread armed conflicts.

“If someone had told me four years ago that we would have to fight starvation in Syria, I would not have believed them,” Dieckmann said.

Other organisations also in crisis mode

Months ago, the children’s aid organisation World Vision complained that it is in permanent crisis mode amid the world’s many conflicts.

>>Read: Conflict-ridden states cannot reach MDGs without help, NGO says

The organisation called for a paradigm shift from the German government and the EU on their peace policy. The topic of peace is also expected to be included in the UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) under target 16.

“In Germany and Europe, but also internationally, we must shift the focus to consistent peace promotion,” said Ekkehard Forbert of World Vision. “Conflicts must be recognised at an early stage and, at that time, mediators and experts should be sent to mediate between conflicting parties. Peace policy requires a forward-looking approach.”

World Vision is also calling for more money for preventative measures.

Research has shown that investment in preventative measures for conflict mitigation are 60 times less costly than intervening in the conflict at a later stage, the aid organisation pointed out.

Development successes through “good governance”

Aside from numerous shocking reports in Welthungerhilfe’s yearly report, the NGO chief also shared some good news.

“Entire regions are improving,” said Dieckmann. “In all Latin American countries there has been a positive development in recent years, supported by intelligent state social programmes in Bolivia, for example. Asian countries like Malaysia, Vietnam and Sri Lanka have also made huge steps forward.”

But the situation is less rosy in sub-Saharan Africa, she warned, where civil war and droughts have set countries like Mali, South Sudan and Zimbabwe miles behind.

More often than not, the countries that have good government leadership and stable political conditions are the ones that are doing well, said Dieckmann. “We, as an aid organisation, must admit that we cannot solve conflicts. In the end, it is up to politicians.”

The EU is present in crisis zones around the world, including Syria, Afghanistan, the occupied Palestinian territories, the Sahel region and many other parts of Africa, central and South America and southeast Asia.

It provides development assistance and humanitarian relief, with a stated focus on the full disaster cycle – prevention, preparedness, response and recovery. In 2012 alone, the EU provided assistance to 122 million people in over 90 non-EU countries.

German Welthungerhilfe (German language): Yearly report 2014 (23 June 2015) Conflict-ridden states cannot reach MDGs without help, NGO says (22 September 2014)

Zeit Online (German language): Global Peace Index: Intensität bewaffneter Konflikte hat deutlich zugenommen (17 June 2015)

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