Welthungerhilfe General Secretary Till Wahnbaeck and President Bärbel Dieckmann presenting the Annual Report in Berlin, Germany.
Photo: R. Krieg

The limits of development co-operation

In addition to classical development activities, relief organisations like Welthungerhilfe have to increasingly engage in emergency relief for refugees. Welthungerhilfe President Bärbel Dieckmann has called on politicians to devise a new security policy.

For a long time, Zimbabwe used to be Africa’s granary. However, its authoritarian President, Robert Mugabe, neglected smallholder agriculture. For lack of money and experience, many families have opted for monocultures, have become susceptible to price fluctuations and droughts and are suffering from not having enough storage facilities. The harvest has to be protected against rats and mice.

Welthungerhilfe has been active in this country since 2008, and it has succeeded in cotton being replaced again by food crops such as sweet potatoes, chili, peanuts, tomatoes, millet and maize. This serves both the smallholders’ own food security and earning an income, because the farmers can sell their produce to local supermarkets as well as international trade chains. People are learning how to have a healthy diet at health clubs. Last year, Welthungerhilfe nevertheless provided emergency liquidity assistance because the region was suffering from a severe drought.

This classical development co-operation has existed for decades, and it will continue to do so for a long time. But what the world is currently experiencing is the threat of a lasting situation in which a world order has collapsed that has nothing to do with classical development co-operation.

65 million people displaced world-wide

Welthungerhilfe President Bärbel Dieckmann and General Secretary Till Wahnbaeck presented the organisation’s 2015 Annual Report in Berlin, Germany, early in June, and despite all progress made, they had to point out the limits that their organisation and others were meeting. Currently, around 65 million people are fleeing poverty, natural disasters and war. The figures that Europe is discussing only account for a small share of this – 86 per cent of the refugees are still in their home countries or neighbouring ones. Turkey alone is accommodating 2.5 billion refugees.

At political level, behind the term “combating the causes of flight”, there has been a paradigm shift at political level. Welthungerhilfe has engaged in the activity proper, combating hunger and poverty, for more than 50 years. This includes tasks such as those in Zimbabwe. But currently, Europe is associating this term more with preventing flight by walls and fences, on financial pledges to no longer let the refugees set out from their gathering points to cross the Mediterranean or embark on the “Balkans Route”. However, this will not eliminate a single cause of flight in the home countries of the refugees. According to Dieckmann, it amounts to a declaration of bankruptcy following years and years of failure in development co-operation.

Flight or migration?

The Welthungerhilfe President wants to see a clear distinction between the terms of “flight” and “emigration”. Migration has always been there as part of people’s lives, and it has always mutually stimulated cultures. But pictures from Syria show us a wholesale destruction of living environments. Even the best development co-operation cannot halt this. Dieckmann calls on politicians to create an enabling framework for development co-operation with a new security policy. After the end of the Cold War, the international community failed to address political areas such as security, détente, public services for the former Bloc affiliates and “frozen conflicts”. This vacuum is now leading to all sorts of conflicts throughout the world. Dieckmann seeks to have this focused not only on the responsibility of the former major powers but also on the co-responsibility of the Middle East countries, above all Iran and Saudi Arabia. Whether the Paris COP 21 climate agreement and the UN’s agreeing on the Sustainable Development Goals can fill the vacuum remains questionable, Dieckmann maintains, although she regards the agreements as very, very important. “The truth is there is still a long way to go before they are implemented,” she told rural21.com.

Growth in emergency relief

Welthungerhilfe can read changes in the global situation from its statistics. Emergency relief already accounts for the same volume of its expenditure as spending on basic infrastructure and agriculture, explained Board Chairman Till Wahnbaeck. “Hunger is becoming more complex. Combating it is becoming more and more complicated,” Wahnbaeck said. Welthungerhilfe seeks to turn emergency relief into long-term projects. For example, Syrian refugees in Turkey are given small lots, seed and tools so that they can feed themselves and supply local markets as well to reduce tension there. However, this requires a lot of staying power. According to Wahnbaeck, 50 per cent of the refugees remain displaced from their home countries for about ten years.

Here, new approaches are called for. With the concept of blending, the European Development Days in June introduced a financial mix of private and public funding. At local level, Welthungerhilfe had always co-operated with a range of actors, including private ones, Wahnbaeck toldrural21.com. Such approaches can also be up-scaled to international trade chains. “We are very active in experimenting here,” he said. “But it is important to keep the focus on human beings. This is not about generating profits for industry.”

Roland Krieg, journalist, Berlin/Germany 

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