What to expect from the World Humanitarian Summit

This is the first time in the 70-year history of the UN that the World Humanitarian Summit has been convened

May 19th, 2016
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Over 6,000 politicians, business leaders, civil society groups and aid organisations will meet in Istanbul on 23-24 May to debate how to deal with global crises that have been intensified by wars, natural disasters and climate change.

Today, 125 million people are in need humanitarian assistance, more than 60 million are forcibly displaced, and 218 million have been affected by disasters each year for the past two decades - an overhaul of the global humanitarian system therefore is desperately needed. It is important to highlight that there is no goal or objective or any negotiated document for countries to sign. Instead, a number of actors from largest governments to the smallest charities - will each be making their own commitments to reform. But the urge to find more financing is alarming for example the UN crisis appeals are only 16 % funded.

Organizers believe that the open-ended nature of the summit is reason why it could work this time. Every organization will need to undertake its own introspection and come ready to reform. The “agenda for Humanity” produced by the UN Secretary General’ office calls for five “core responsibilities” that all stakeholders are being asked to commit to: Prevent and End Conflict, Respect Rules of War, Leave No One Behind, Working Differently to End Need and Invest in Humanity.

One of the key things to be discussed is the development policies for emergencies. The focus has shifted to developmental approaches to humanitarian work. In other words, humanitarian crises are forcing a convergence between the humanitarian and development communities. Debate about the tension between the two groups is expected to continue in Istanbul. One of the most discussed issues in the lead up to the summit is the question of how to refugees can work legally in host countries so that they can build their own livelihoods. Innovative financing, including a new approach from World Bank is also expected to be discussed at the summit.

But there are also concerns from many sides. Medicins Sans Frontier, an organization providing health care in some of the world’s most dangerous conflict zones, pulled out of the summit over concerns that WHS would fall short on the most fundamental indicator of success like protecting humanitarian professionals and civilians in crisis. Aid worker security, for example, is not on the official agenda in Istanbul. Also lack of specificity is widely criticized. However, UN representatives are optimistic about the summit. The future success is for now just a question. In the days and weeks after the summit, the WHS attendees hope that political leaders, diplomats, UN agencies and NGO’s will start to act on the pledges and reforms discussed in Istanbul. Neal Keny-Guyer, Mercy Corps CEO, said: “One thing we hope will come out of the summit is that everyone agrees that this a launch pad not an end point”.


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Veronika Mecnarowska, CD News