Welthungerhilfe’s mission is actually the long-term fight against world hunger, but the Syrian crisis has led the NGO to rethink that mission. It says the situation there is a humanitarian catastrophe.
12 million Syrians need help, among them, seven million refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. They are traumatized. They have experienced bomb attacks, seen their houses destroyed, been caught between warring fronts and have been torn out of their daily life. Many have had to flee to save their lives. Some two million refugees live in Turkey alone, half of them children and youths.
The image that Bärbel Dieckmann, president of the German food aid organization, Welthungerhilfe, painted during her presentation of the NGO’s annual report was shocking. Dieckmann’s impressions were still fresh, as she said she had gotten the chance to see the situation on the ground firsthand just three weeks before.
She perceived the situation of those refugees being taken in by Turkey as very positive though. Only 15 percent of refugees there have to live in tent camps. She said that Turkey has been extremely supportive. Dieckmann emphasized that the country – despite its economic might – will nonetheless need international support in light of such large numbers of refugees. Welthungerhilfe aided projects there to the tune of 19 million euros ($21 million) last year.
One of the things that most surprised her, says Dieckmann, was that all of the refugees wanted to return to Syria. She says she met no one that did not want to return, and that Syrians are very connected to their homeland, and to their families.
According to Dieckmann, the humanitarian crisis that has developed in the wake of the Syrian conflict could grow into the great tragedy of an entire decade, especially because there seem to be no political solutions in sight. NGOs therefore have to get much more involved where politics fails. She says the situation in Syria now is “comparable to the mountains of rubble in Germany after the Second World War.” Welthungerhilfe can only work with the Syrian groups on the ground there, as it is simply too dangerous for other international aid organizations.
Welthungerhilfe’s main focus last year was Syrian aid in Turkey, Northern Iraq and Syria itself, with 30 million ($33.5 million) of the NGO’s 200 million euro ($224 million) annual budget being allocated there. The budget is comprised of private donations and public grants, with the latter making up some 150 million euros ($168 million) in 2014. Half of that money came from Germany, for instance from the foreign ministry and the Department for International Development. The other half came from international sources, such as EU and UN organizations.
Till Wahnbaeck, Welthungerhilfe’s new secretary general, says that over the course of the last few years emergency crisis relief has evolved into the second pillar of the NGO’s work. In 2014 it accounted for 40 percent of its work, next to their long-term hunger work and classic reconstruction aid.
Welthungerhilfe has reacted to this new situation by organizing a “crisis response team,” with the aim of always knowing which of its 3,000 staff members can travel and help most quickly. Wahnbaeck says that the new strategy proved itself for the first time during the recent earthquake in Nepal. The earthquake struck on a Friday evening, and by Monday morning the emergency action plan was already up and running.
Welthungerhilfe is one of the largest private aid organizations in Germany, and has no religious or political affiliations. It was founded under the aegis of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in 1962. Since then, it has furthered some 7,700 aid projects worldwide.
In her report, Bärbel Dieckmann said that there was much good news to report when looking at the world these days as well: Such as the fact that nearly all of the countries of South America have freed themselves from their formerly dismal situations. And that Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam have also made great development leaps. On the African continent, it can be seen that progress can be made where there are positive political developments. South Sudan, Zimbabwe and Mali are countries that had rather positive outlooks, but are currently suffering political instability. Sierra Leone and Liberia were also originally on a good path. Dieckmann went on to cite Mali, Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Malawi and Ethiopia as positive examples.
The president also specifically praised the German government, and the fact that the fight against hunger and poverty have once again come into focus within the framework of foreign policy toward Africa. Development aid cooperation also played a prominent role at the G-7 Summit in Schloss Elmau, and “that is something that is very welcome,” said Dieckmann.