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Overview of humanitarian assistance in 2008

2008 was a year of major humanitarian challenges. Natural disasters such as Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, the devastating earthquake in China, flooding in India and Brazil or the hurricanes in the Caribbean once again highlighted the dangers of the unbridled forces of nature. In the complex political crises in Africa, as well as in Afghanistan and Iraq, unresolved conflicts made it impossible to improve the precarious humanitarian situation of people living there. The conflict in Georgia or, most recently, the cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe were new crises which required additional humanitarian efforts. The financial crisis and the development of food prices made things even more difficult by increasing the cost of assistance and diminishing people's readiness to donate.

Despite these not so easy basic conditions, the international community reacted with quick and targeted assistance. At more than 10 billion US dollars, more funds were mobilized than ever before (with the exception of the tsunami year 2005). On behalf of the German Government, the Federal Foreign Office played an active role, in terms of both international coordination and concrete assistance. The 118.5 million euro earmarked for humanitarian relief measures was used to finance 329 individual projects in more than 70 crisis regions around the world.

The assistance was largely implemented via German NGOs. Without the commitment of these NGOs and their staff in the crisis regions, the effectiveness - not to mention the independence - of German humanitarian assistance could not have been guaranteed. Other key partners are international relief organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which guarantee the continuity of humanitarian assistance through their experience and presence throughout the world. Through more evaluation measures, as well as the organization of an international conference on this issue at the Federal Foreign Office in December 2008, it was possible to ensure that help reaches the groups most in need.

The best help in 2008, as in all other years, was that which helped prevent the development of new humanitarian emergencies. The Federal Foreign Office therefore provided some 10 million euro to fund 46 disaster reduction projects. Within the scope of humanitarian mine clearance, 12.2 million euro were provided to fund 35 projects to protect the civilian population and to make agricultural land usable again.

Many current crises are expected to continue in 2009. In addition, natural disasters will occur again, many of them aggravated by the impact of climate change. Together with its partners, the Federal Foreign Office will continue to react quickly and unbureaucratically and to provide effective and visible assistance on behalf of the Federal Republic of Germany.


Humanitarian emergency measures in the Sudan and in Chad have been a focus of the German Government's humanitarian aid in Africa since 2004. According to the United Nations, more than 3 million people have become dependent on humanitarian aid as a result of the Darfur crisis. The gradual return of refugees to southern Sudan following the end of the civil war has prompted measures in the field of humanitarian aid and mine clearance in this region. The situation in Chad was aggravated by internal conflicts and the admittance of refugees from the neighbouring Central African Republic. In 2008, the Federal Foreign Office provided a total of around 10.8 million euro for emergency humanitarian measures in the Sudan and in Chad. The German Government will continue to make its commitment to the crisis in the Sudan and Chad a priority of its humanitarian assistance in 2009.

In the Great Lakes region, the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues to be the scene of violent clashes between government troops and rebel groups. The humanitarian situation is appalling for large sections of the population, especially in the eastern province of North Kivu. All in all, more than 1.6 million people have been forced to flee their homes due to the current or earlier conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, some 1 million people in North Kivu alone. In view of the ongoing critical humanitarian situation, funding relief measures in the Democratic Republic of the Congo remains another focus of German humanitarian aid in Africa. In 2008, measures totalling around 7.15 million euro were supported in that region.

In addition, extensive humanitarian assistance amounting to 2.73 million euro was provided in 2008 to Zimbabwe as a result of the outbursts of violence in connection with the elections as well as the cholera epidemic which broke out recently.

Another crisis region is eastern Africa. Climatic factors combined with the effects of armed conflicts threaten the food supply of people in countries such as Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Eritrea, where the situation with regard to hunger and scarcity of food is viewed as chronic. The Federal Foreign Office provided a total of 8.9 million euro to support the victims of the drought in eastern Africa in 2008. The most important target group were people in Somalia who have in addition been affected by a long civil war. In 2008 the Federal Foreign Office earmarked 4 million euro for humanitarian aid in Somalia and for Somali refugees in Kenya and Djibouti.

The Federal Foreign Office also funded a number of aid projects in African crisis regions which did not attract the attention of the international public. Its total contribution to humanitarian aid efforts in Africa in 2008 amounted to 31.6 million euro for around 107 assistance projects in 21 African countries.


On 2 May 2008, Myanmar was hit by Cyclone Nargis. The coastal region, where a four metre-high flood wave accompanied the category 4 cyclone, suffered the most extensive damage. Official reports estimated the number of dead and missing to be over 133,000. According to the United Nations, at least 2.4 million people were affected by the disaster. The German Government's humanitarian aid amounted to 6.25 million euro (3 million from the Federal Foreign Office and 3.25 million from the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development). The Federal Foreign Office funds were handed over to German relief organizations as well as to the UN's flash appeal.

On 12 May there was an earthquake measuring 8 on the Richter scale in the Chinese province of Sichuan, which caused considerable damage and claimed up to 70,000 lives. The earthquake destroyed 6.5 million houses, making 15 million people temporarily homeless. The Federal Foreign Office provided a total of 2.8 million euro in humanitarian assistance.

Pakistan and India were affected by unusually heavy flooding. There was also an earthquake in Pakistan at the end of October. In total the Federal Foreign Office made available more than 1 million euro for relief measures for the victims of these natural disasters in 2008.

In Sri Lanka, following the resurgence of fighting between the Sri Lankan army and the Tamil separatist organization "Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam" (LTTE), up to 280,000 people have again been forced to flee their homes since May 2008. An estimated 200,000 people are within the Vanni (Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts as well as parts of Mannar and Vavuniya districts) controlled by the LTTE. A total of 2.9 million euro was earmarked for relief and prevention measures in 2008.

On 8 August the conflict over South Ossetia in Georgia broke out. At one point more than 133,000 people were displaced as a result of the hostilities. Some 37,600 people are expected to remain away from home over the winter. The Federal Foreign Office has provided a total of 2 million euro for humanitarian relief measures, including humanitarian demining.

The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, most notably of the rural population and among particularly disadvantaged groups such as returning families and internally displaced persons with no access to shelter or other basic necessities, remains precarious. An insecure supply of food, chronic malnutrition, a lack of access to clean drinking water and insufficient basic medical care constitute some of the greatest problems.

Last winter, which was regarded as the most severe in the last decade, particularly hit people in lower-lying regions who were ill-prepared for the harsh weather conditions. Here our goal was to provide sufficient emergency food supplies, fuel and warm clothing. The humanitarian situation becomes more critical in winter every year, when it is difficult or impossible to reach isolated mountain regions. A total of approximately 10.5 million euro was spent on these projects and other emergency measures in 2008.

The fate of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons received particular public attention in 2008. More than 2 million people have left the country, and over 2.8 million have been displaced within their own land. Some 5 million euro were earmarked to provide assistance and protection for these groups in Jordan and Syria, as well as in Iraq itself.

In 2008 a total of 29.6 million euro in funding was provided for 86 projects in Asia.


Within the context of the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe the Federal Government sponsored humanitarian assistance projects totalling around 1.4 million euro in 2008. These funds were used to finance home rebuilding, basic income-generating measures as well as equipment aid and winter relief. The goal of these initiatives is to encourage people to return to their homes, promote lasting reintegration and stabilize the living conditions of displaced persons and refugees in the countries of the former Yugoslavia. In 2008 the focus was on Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, as well as Kosovo.

Middle East

The Palestinian territories, particularly the Gaza Strip, and Lebanon were again priorities for Federal Foreign Office humanitarian assistance in 2008.

The humanitarian situation in Gaza continued to worsen in the course of 2008.

Due to the blockade of the Gaza Strip, the economy ground to a halt and there is a shortage of food, health care, fuel and energy supplies. Since early November the situation has worsened once more: due to the renewed firing of missiles into Israeli territory, Israel completely closed border points, except for short periods. This also affected aid transports of humanitarian goods and food, as well as fuel deliveries.

The reconstruction of the Nahr-el-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon, which was destroyed in 2007 as a result of the fighting between the extremist Sunni group Fatah al-Islam and the Lebanese army, began. Nevertheless, the 30,000 people who fled the camp remained largely dependent on humanitarian aid.

The majority of Federal Foreign Office support in the Middle East goes to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), as well as to German aid organizations. In 2008 Germany made voluntary regular contributions of 7 million euro to the regular UNRWA budget. In addition, the Federal Foreign Office contributed a total of 1.25 million euro to UNRWA's humanitarian aid efforts in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon, as well as 2 million euro to ICRC projects. Funding for projects run by German relief organizations in close cooperation with local partner organizations was concentrated in the sphere of emergency medical care.

In 2008 the Federal Foreign Office provided a total of around 4.4 million euro in funding for 10 projects in the Middle East.

The Americas

In 2008 there were again numerous hurricanes and floods on the American continent, for example Hurricanes Gustav and Hanna, which caused considerable damage in Haiti and Cuba at the end of August and claimed the lives of many people in Haiti. Most recently, floods and landslides in southern Brazil in November caused the death of more than 100 people and destroyed many towns. The Federal Foreign Office sponsored many aid projects in 2008 for hurricane and flood victims in Bolivia, Brazil, Honduras, Panama, Haiti and Cuba, as well as in Colombia and Ecuador.

Alongside emergency measures of this kind, the Federal Foreign Office also provided assistance in long-term humanitarian crises. In particular, the Federal Foreign Office provided funds for the care of people driven from their homes by the internal conflicts between the Government and various armed groups in Colombia. In 2008, 2.4 million euro were earmarked for this and made available in particular to the ICRC as well as to German relief organizations active on the ground.

In 2008 funds to the tune of 4.3 million euro went towards a total of 27 projects on the American continent.

Disaster reduction

Some 250 million people fall victim to natural disasters each year. In May 2008 alone, Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar and the major earthquake in Sichuan province in China claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people. In September 2008 four hurricanes in the Caribbean killed hundreds of people and caused massive destruction. In Asia, as well as in Africa and Latin America, millions of people were hit by flooding in 2008.

Climate-related disasters have increased by 90 per cent during the last 20 years. Developing countries in particular are not taken by surprise, but are nonetheless inadequately prepared for the growing number and intensity of natural disasters. Far-sighted disaster reduction measures such as early warning systems and evacuation steps can greatly reduce the impact of natural disasters. Acting before a natural disaster has occurred is therefore indispensable and a joint task for the international community.

In 2008, the Federal Foreign Office provided funding totalling 10 million euro from its humanitarian aid budget for disaster reduction projects. In cooperation with the UN, the Red Cross and Red Crescent associations, as well as NGOs, the Federal Foreign Office promotes disaster reduction projects in Asia, Africa and Latin America in close cooperation with local partner organizations. Our funding in this area is destined for projects abroad that are not receiving support from development cooperation funds. We concentrate particularly on early-warning systems and pilot projects. For instance, we are supporting the construction and use of early-warning systems in weather research as protection against imminent tropical storms. Early-warning systems in seismology for earthquakes are another area we promote, as is tsunami research. We are also keen to support the building of disaster reduction networks and structures at both the national and transboundary level.

In support of the work done by the United Nations and the EU, the Federal Foreign Office is actively advocating the strengthening of worldwide disaster reduction on the international stage. Efficient prevention not only means saving lives and alleviating human suffering but also protecting key infrastructure. Disaster reduction is an investment in the future to which the Federal Foreign Office will continue to contribute.

Humanitarian mine and ordnance clearance

In most of the countries involved landmines were planted indiscriminately and without reliable maps of the minefields. This means that detecting and removing landmines is not only expensive and time-consuming, but also leads to many social problems which place a heavy burden on the countries' mostly fragile societies: the landmines, often buried for decades, not only kill people but in many cases stretch health systems and family structures to breaking point in the areas concerned. Landmine contamination also makes it difficult to reconstruct destroyed infrastructure and to use agricultural land.

Today unexploded ordnance causes more deaths and injuries than landmines in many countries, for example Afghanistan and Cambodia. The mine clearance programmes funded by the Federal Foreign Office take this into account. Their fundamental aim is to clear the area of both landmines and unexploded ordnance, including cluster munitions.

Despite the seriousness of the problem, today we can see light at the end of the tunnel thanks to the positive impact of the Ottawa Convention. There is real confidence that the landmine problem can be resolved in years rather than decades provided that funding remains constant. No-one would have believed such a development was possible just a few years ago.

Encouraging examples of this can already be seen in Kosovo or Albania, where concerted international assistance and national efforts succeeded, against all expectations, in sharply reducing the number of victims in a relatively short time. This unexpectedly positive development is thanks not only to more reliable analysis and more efficient clearing but also to the years of tireless effort by numerous NGOs and the Parties to the Ottawa Convention.

Since 1992 the Federal Government has spent around 167 million euro on humanitarian mine and ordnance clearance projects, making it one of the most reliable and generous providers of financial assistance. The Federal Foreign Office's total contribution to humanitarian mine clearance projects in 2008 amounted to around 17.5 million euro. Particular priorities were Afghanistan, the Balkans, Cambodia, the Sudan, Viet Nam and Tajikistan.

The German Government's funding for humanitarian mine and ordnance clearance was increased again in the budget for 2009 and is expected to amount to more than 18 million euro.