As the Secretary General of CARE Deutschland – Luxemburg, could you tell the reader about the primary goals of CARE and why your work is rewarding to you?
Karl-Otto Zentel: Poverty is injustice. And that is why CARE is addressing the root causes of poverty. We provide tools for sustainable change to communities most vulnerable to hunger, violence and climate change. In times of conflict or disaster, we address immediate survival needs directly following an emergency — and we help individuals, families and communities rebuild their lives in the weeks, months and years to come. One of the root causes of poverty is women and girls’ lack of control over their lives and their rights. What I personally find most rewarding is that CARE looks at people in need as agents of change. We don’t leave it at charitable gestures. We empower and support communities to become self-sufficient.
You have recently been to Yemen. Can you tell us about the humanitarian situation there and why the conflict in Yemen is attracting less attention than other conflicts?
ZEN: The situation in Yemen is devastating. During my visit, I witnessed the unimaginable suffering and dire humanitarian needs of nearly 19 million people – a number equaling the entire populations of Sweden and Switzerland. The civil war has been going on for two years. People do not have enough food and safe drinking water. Recently we saw a cholera outbreak. CARE supports the reconstruction of water sources, the construction of new cisterns and offers hygiene education. But without sufficient financial resources some of the projects will need to end in a few weeks. Awareness is key for raising these much-needed funds, but it has been challenging to attract public attention for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Some of the reasons are obvious; we live in a world of multiple conflicts competing for attention, where the scale and kind of impact on our very own realities matter. For example Yemen’s conflict does not get the same attention in Germany as the war in Syria because there are hardly any refugees from Yemen in Germany. The conflict in Yemen also seems to be more isolated; there are not only more internally displaced families than people fleeing to neighbouring countries, it is also extremely difficult to gain access to the most vulnerable – as a humanitarian worker, and the same goes for international journalists.However, we cannot remain silent. The longer the international community waits, the worse the impact on families affected by this war will be.
The work of CARE goes beyond immediate relief and emergency aid, it aims at long-term and sustainable solutions as well. In this regards, could you discuss the relation between humanitarian aid and the Sustainable Development Goals?
ZEN: Humanitarian aid and the SDG’s have a common goal: to work together to leave no one behind and eradicate poverty. Humanitarian aid can gain some time to work on longer term solutions. But without this essential link, humanitarians are left alone and cannot fill the gaps for longer term solutions. The political dimension of any humanitarian disaster needs to be addressed in order to build a sustainable link between humanitarian and longer term solutions. The most critical elements to eradicate poverty aremobilizing all people around the world, partnering with local governments and empowering women.This includes the fight against climate change, the fight for gender equality, a commitment to reproductive rights and to ending hunger and malnutrition in emergency situations as well as long-term approaches. Especially when it comes to climate change it is clear why we as a global community need to work together: climate change is mainly caused by lifestyles and industries of the Global North, but countries fighting against negative outcomes like droughts and cyclones are mostly those in the Global South. We have to provide humanitarian aid and at the same time work to reach the SDG’s to stop this circle of poverty.
August 19 marks World Humanitarian Day. This day the UN and its partners are calling for global solidarity with the more than 130 million people around the world who need humanitarian assistance to survive. Could you explain why it is important to commemorate this day?
ZEN: The international humanitarian community celebrates World Humanitarian Day to honor aid workers dedicated to providing life-saving assistance and to remember those who have tragically lost their lives fulfilling this humanitarian imperative. In a world where armed conflicts will continue to be a main cause of forced displacement and urgent humanitarian need, we often see the legitimacy, acceptance and safety of humanitarian actors in conflict zones under threat. On WHD, we raise awareness to address these needs at a global as well as a local level. As partner of the UN, CARE is also proud to support the global call for solidarity with people in need, especially in often forgotten humanitarian crises. The risks these people face are substantial – hunger, disease, death. It’s absolutely essential that the international community takes notice of the most vulnerable and stresses the impartiality of aid workers so we can continue to help those most in need. My contribution to the WHD will be to continue to advocate for the most vulnerable by being present at hotspots of humanitarian needs. On my schedule for 2017 are Somalia and Northern Niger, close to the border to Libya. The later one to meet with traditional leaders from Niger and Libya to talk about ways to contribute to peace in the region.
What motivates you in the morning and how do you think about it in the evening?
ZEN: To work together with a highly motivated team to address challenges which really matter. In the evening to take a minute to realize the progress made and results – even if sometimes small – achieved.
Which question would you like to answer that you have never been asked before?
ZEN: I’ve never been asked why I work with CARE. For me, CARE means moving beneficiaries to supporters and donors. When Europe was in ruins CARE supported millions of people in need with the well-known CARE packages. These people in Germany, France, UK, Netherlands, Norway, Denmark and Austria are nowadays active supporters of the work of CARE for the most vulnerable people worldwide. This is such a great example of what solidarity and relief can achieve in the long-term. CARE has made a measurable impact on millions of people in conflicts and crisis, like Syria, Yemen and East Africa. My personal vision is that CARE will empower beneficiaries of today to become donors and supporters of tomorrow. People are not victims. They are always actors with capacities for great development, ideas and innovative solutions. Sometimes they may need some assistance – a helping hand – and that is what CARE stands for.
The interview was conducted by Frederique Uyterlinde