In August 2011, Dirk Niebel (FDP) visited the Horn of Africa. At that time there was a devastating famine that killed an estimated 250,000 people in Somalia alone. “It is difficult to bear to see the extent of human misery and the lack of prospects,” said the German development minister at the time.

In addition to food aid, the federal government also promised long-term support. And today? Today, East Africa faces a catastrophe that could get significantly worse.

Because every 48 seconds someone dies there from acute hunger. This emerges from a report published last week by the non-governmental organizations Save the Children and Oxfam. Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are currently experiencing a drought of historic proportions.

For the fourth year in a row there was no rainy season, it has probably not been worse for over 40 years. As a result, more than 20 million people do not have enough food – including around six million children. The aid organizations accuse the international community of being too hesitant and warn of mass deaths.

One would only react to crises instead of taking preventive action. This was also criticized during the humanitarian catastrophe in 2011. In the meantime, early warning systems have been developed in order to be able to recognize crises in advance. “Evaluations have shown, however, that early warning systems do not also lead to early action,” complain Save the Children and Oxfam in their report.

Because there were already the first warning signals of a drought in August 2020, about which an institute of the European Commission also warned in December 2020. In April 2021, the Somali government declared that the country was suffering from a drought. In September 2021, the Kenyan government joined in and declared a national emergency. So there were many signs – but little happened.

Nevertheless, there have always been aid projects over the years and Germany also maintains bilateral development cooperation with all three countries. A UN donor conference was also held in Geneva in April this year, at which a total of 1.29 billion euros in aid was pledged.

Germany promised 180 million, as a spokesman for the Federal Development Ministry told the Tagesspiegel. “This reaction fits into the long-standing commitment of the BMZ in East Africa,” says the spokesman. Among other things, they want to “reduce the extent of future crises through adaptation and resilience measures” and achieve greater “emancipation and independence”.

This includes, for example, the promotion of native and climate-resistant plants such as millet, yams or cassava. As a result, East Africa would no longer be as dependent on Russia and Ukraine as it is currently. Christoph Hoffmann, the development policy spokesman for the FDP parliamentary group in the Bundestag, also points to this dependency.

Russia is “using hunger as a strategic weapon, risking millions of lives in East Africa,” he told the newspaper. “Nevertheless, we must pay more attention to the food sovereignty of the endangered countries and support the modernization of the agricultural economy,” says Hoffmann.

In the opinion of the aid organizations, however, all of this should have taken place much earlier, which is why they conclude: “Famine is a political failure.” Economist Axel Dreher also shares the view “unreservedly” that one had waited too long.

“It’s always the same. It’s hard to find arguments why you could see things differently,” the professor for development policy told the Tagesspiegel. “You only react when the television pictures are there and people are dying. Only then does the media and political pressure kick in,” explains Dreher.

This is due to the fact that development policy functions largely according to the free-rider problem: no state is solely responsible, which is why everyone waits and hopes that the other one will take action first. And why is there no pragmatic help like in the Ukraine? “Africa is not Europe. So racist, so simple,” explains Cornelia Möhring, the development policy spokeswoman for the left.

Although this should not belittle the aid provided in Ukraine, it does show “what is politically and financially possible if the people in charge want it,” Möhring told the Tagesspiegel. However, it is a moral duty to provide help, since “the industrialized countries are mainly to blame for the climate crisis” and thus for the drought.

Early and decisive intervention would be worthwhile, not only morally, but also economically. Because this could possibly save millions in development funds – and thus relieve taxpayers. This is the conclusion of a 2018 study that examined US development policy in Kenya.

The authors explain that the US government would have saved the equivalent of 355 million euros over 15 years if it provided early aid. Economist Dreher also suspects that early intervention could be significantly cheaper, although this is difficult to prove scientifically.

What matters now in East Africa is the support of the international community. If this does not happen, eleven years after Dirk Niebel’s visit, another humanitarian catastrophe threatens. And unless something changes in the long term, famine could become the new normal.