The Bundeswehr’s International Disaster Assistance

German military personnel provide relief worldwide when people are in need due to natural disasters, serious accidents or epidemics. In this international disaster assistance, the Bundeswehr cooperates closely with governmental and non-governmental partners and relief organisations.

Soldat gibt einer malischen Frau die Hand, drumherum weitere Personen

When did the Bundeswehr start providing international disaster assistance?

The Bundeswehr conducted its first armed operations abroad in the 1990s after German reunification. But it has been providing international disaster assistance for much longer: when an earthquake destroyed the Moroccan coastal town of Agadir back in 1960, the German Air Force was there to help. Transport aircraft brought rescue forces and materials to the severely affected region. An airlift was also established for injured people.

Since then, the German armed forces have been deployed to disaster areas to save lives time and again. A few examples:

What does the Bundeswehr’s international disaster assistance entail?

Container werden in ein Flugzeug geladen

With its aircraft, the Bundeswehr transports relief supplies – especially food, temporary shelters and medications – to crisis areas.

Bundeswehr/Johannes Heyn

In the event of natural disasters and other major emergencies, the Bundeswehr’s international disaster relief measures ensure the survival of the people affected. For example, it transports food, temporary shelters and medications to the affected areas.

This emergency relief is followed by post-emergency assistance. It aims to allow people in affected regions to help themselves again in the foreseeable future.

Longer-term assistance, on the other hand, falls within the area of responsibility of development assistance agencies and is therefore not the task of the German armed forces.

How does the Bundeswehr’s international disaster assistance work?

The Bundeswehr provides forces and assets to handle disasters abroad. If local civilian organisations are not yet able to take adequate measures, the armed forces can quickly provide assistance and, for example, employ logistic forces, field engineering, water treatment plants or well-equipped doctors and paramedics at short notice.

Angetretene Soldaten

Orders briefing: the Bundeswehr’s Medical Service is ready to help quickly – worldwide.

Bundeswehr/Björn Wilke

Who does the Bundeswehr’s international disaster assistance support?

The Bundeswehr usually cooperates closely with its allies and partner nations in international disaster assistance. It also cooperates with governmental and non-governmental relief organisations such as the German Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THWTechnisches Hilfswerk) or the Red Cross.

How does the Bundeswehr’s international disaster assistance benefit Germany?

First of all, the Bundeswehr’s international disaster assistance saves lives and alleviates acute need. This is the focus of all its relief efforts. But international disaster assistance also serves Germany’s security interests. Famines, for example, cause refugee movements that can destabilise entire regions and generate conflicts. For that reason, the German government has set itself the goal of combating the factors that cause people to flee their homes. Humanitarian assistance – including assistance by the armed forces – works towards this goal.

Eine Karte zeigt ausgewählte Hilfseinsätze der Bundeswehr weltweit.

From Albania to the People’s Republic of China: the Bundeswehr has been on relief operations throughout the world.


Who makes decisions on the Bundeswehr’s international disaster assistance?

The provision of humanitarian assistance by servicemen and women is not an armed mission of the Bundeswehr, which the German Bundestag would have to approve by a simple majority in accordance with the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany. A decision by the German government is therefore usually enough to put the Bundeswehr’s international disaster assistance in motion. If, however, the possibility cannot be ruled out that the military personnel will have to use weapons in order to provide assistance, they will be authorised to do so by the German Bundestag with a robust mandate that legitimises the use of weapons.

Menschen in Schutzanzügen in einem Behandlungszelt

During the Ebola outbreak in 2014, the Bundeswehr provided the materials for a ward for up to 50 patients.

Bundeswehr/Sebastian Wilke

Military personnel fighting Ebola – one example of the Bundeswehr’s international disaster assistance

The Bundeswehr provided transport aircraft, established an airlift and built a ward for the admission of up to 50 patients. In total, the aircraft transported 825 tonnes of relief supplies, including sacks of rice, medical equipment, ambulances and much more.

The transport flights were carried out for the UNUnited Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), the UNUnited Nations World Food Programme (UNWFP), the UNUnited Nations World Health Organization (UNWHO), the International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEFUnited Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) and the THWTechnisches Hilfswerk.