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EU moves to fend off hunger crisis in E. Africa and Yemen

April 6, 2017

Following pressure from Germany, a meeting was hastily convened in Brussels on the back of the Syria conference to mobilize assistance for an estimated 20 million people facing acute hunger in East Africa and Yemen.

Jemen Leid der Kinder
Image: Getty Images/AFP/T. Karumba

The meeting, proposed by Germany, on assisting people hit by the hunger crisis in East Africa and Yemen was quickly slotted in on Wednesday by EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Federica Mogherini. It ran parallel to the 70-nation two-day Syria conference which was also being hosted by Brussels. 

After the meeting on the hunger crisis, Germany and the EU held a short, joint press briefing where Mogherini thanked Germany for proposing the meeting. "It was brief, but important," she said. It was certainly necessary to raise awareness of the need to help regions hit by civil war or drought, such as Somalia, South Sudan, northern Nigeria, Kenya and Ethiopia. "We urge our partners across the world to come and help," Mogherini said. "But we have to improve coordination. The catastrophe which is being forecast can't be allowed to happen," she added.

German foreign minister  Sigmar Gabriel (left)  und EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner  Federica Mogherini
German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel (left) und EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Federica Mogherini call for action on the hunger crisis Image: DW/B. Riegert

Gabriel pushed for this last-minute conference on Africa following a tour of the crisis region by his German cabinet colleague, Development Minister Gerd Müller, earlier in the week. Müller had described the international community's reaction to the crisis as scandalous because nobody was coming to the aid of Africa's hungry. "We now know that a catastrophe is looming and nobody can say they have no idea as to what awaits people in the afflicted regions," said Gabriel in Brussels. There was no question of being taken by surprise. A similar tragedy unfolded in Somalia in 2010-11. Nearly 260,000 people died as a result

More aid

The United Nations says that around 20 million people in East Africa and in war-torn Yemen on the Arabian peninsular are facing an acute risk of dying from hunger. "That is the biggest humanitarian disaster since the founding of the United Nations," UN relief coordinator Stephen O'Brien warned the UN Security Council in March. He believes that such catastrophes are often man-made. In Yemen, the war is to blame and in South Sudan, the warring factions were also responsible for failed harvests and hunger.

Germany and the European Union increased aid for countries facing the hunger crisis by hundreds of millions of eurso before the start of the hastily arranged conference. Mogherini says the EU will make an additional 183 million euros ($195 million) available; Germany, according to Müller, is boosting its aid fund by 100 million euros to 300 million euros.

Äthiopien Bundesentwicklungsminister Gerd Müller in der Somali-Region
Visiting German Development Minister Gerd Müller speaking with refugees facing hunger and drought in Ethiopia's Somali Region Image: picture-alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld

The United Nations estimates that around billion euros will be needed by mid-year if the afflicted regions are to receive the assistance they need. Access is particularly difficult in Somalia because part of the country is controlled by the militant Islamist group Al Shabab. The UN assumes that hundreds of thousands of people will make the journey to the emergency water facilities and camps set up by international aid organizations.

London donors' conference 

Gabriel has said that the international community will convene in Geneva on April 25 to discuss the situation in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia and Iran are fighting a proxy war. Two thirds of the Yemeni population are now dependent on aid, the UN says. According to O'Brien, the situation in Yemen is worse than anywhere else.

It is expected that the Geneva meeting will be followed by a fully fledged donors' conference in London on May 11. "That's when we want to start collecting the first real donations," Gabriel said. He said he would look into the posiblity of whether further funding would be available from Germany's national budget.   

Bernd Riegert
Bernd Riegert Senior European correspondent in Brussels with a focus on people and politics in the European Union