As with almost all humanitarian crises, the world has been much too hesitant in its reaction to Ebola. Now, the US wants to bring in the military. The EU and Germany should follow suit, says DW's Claus Stäcker.
It takes a long time for news of African crises to reach Europe's political stage. With each humanitarian emergency it becomes evident once again - whether it be flood, famine, AIDS or desperate refugees drowning in the Mediterranean - that Europe looks away until political action becomes inevitable.
The Ebola epidemic is the latest crisis to demonstrate the world's indecision. For weeks, organizations such as Doctors Without Borders have spoken of the dramatic circumstances and denounced the inaction of the international community.
Infected people are being turned away from overwhelmed clinics, while doctors and nurses are dying or fleeing to safety. Bodies are just being left on the road. Governments are abandoning their countries, economies are grinding to a halt, already weak social systems are finally collapsing. The death toll has risen to nearly 2,500, but still not everyone has been stirred to action.
Even hardened doctors, volunteers and journalists have never experienced such a serious and complex emergency situation.
'Unparalleled in modern times'
The World Health Organization has said the crisis is "unparalleled in modern times," while UN emergency aid chief Valerie Amos has warned of a "collapse" of the affected West African countries. In desperate letters addressed to world leaders from Australia to Russia, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has pleaded for support: "Without more direct help from your government, we will lose this battle against Ebola."
Airlifts are needed, along with medical personnel, mobile hospitals and treatment centers. Information campaigns by local media must be supported. The United Nations estimates that nearly 800 million euros ($1 billion) is required to meet immediate needs, nearly half of that in Liberia. So far, less than a third has been guaranteed. Germany initially promised 2.7 million euros, topping that up by an additional 9 million. Further help is said to be under consideration.
War with peaceful means
It's about time. The US has shown how it should be done. Unlike its past military interventions, Washington's decision to deploy 3,000 American soldiers, along with tents, beds and medical equipment to Liberia is unlikely to meet with any criticism. The military is tried and tested, and it plans to use its transport logistics and clear chains of command to fight the disease.
Faced with the emergency, even historic enemies are working together. Cuba has officially sent 165 doctors, and China has said it will send 59 health experts. Even Malaysia has pitched in, with 21 million pairs of rubber gloves. Finally, the African crisis has moved into the spotlight - even in Europe, which is still sorting out its response.
By the end of the year, the UN has warned that the number of infected people in West Africa could quadruple to 20,000. Doctors Without Borders - supported by donations - has quite rightly wondered why it is supplying the most hospital beds in the countries hit by Ebola. Its volunteers are making almost superhuman efforts, while their patients are facing inhuman suffering.