On May 23 and 24, 2016, the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), called for by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, will be held in Istanbul.
The Summit will be attended by governments, humanitarian organizations, civil society, academia and private sector representatives, as well as people who have been directly affected by humanitarian crises around the world.
According to the World Humanitarian Summit’s website, the stated goal of the Summit is “to propose solutions to our most pressing challenges and set an agenda to keep humanitarian action fit for the future.”
Achieving this goal will require a renewal of commitments to humanitarian action and an encouragement of collaboration among humanitarian actors ranging from world leaders to ordinary people.
The Summit occurs at a crucial time. According to the website for the event, “We are witnessing the highest level of human suffering since the second World War.”
The website reports that ongoing violent conflict has displaced almost 60 million people worldwide, half of whom are children. Natural disasters affect over 200 million people each year, and that number has steadily increased over the last two decades.
These problems have monetary costs as well as humanitarian ones. According to the WHS website, the global economy suffers a cost of over $300 billion a year from natural disasters.
Humanitarian actors are not terribly optimistic about the immediate future. According to The Guardian, “By 2030—the last year to realize the sustainable development goals—62 percent of the world’s population is expected to live in fragile situations, compared with 43 percent today.”
However, rather than suggesting that the WHS’s efforts to reinvigorate humanitarian action are futile, these numbers indicate that the WHS is more important than ever.
Violent conflict will be the major focus of the Summit, an unsurprising fact given that, according to the Guardian, 80 percent of humanitarian needs can be attributed to it.
The Summit will also aim to enhance disaster preparedness in areas most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Such improvements will have the added benefit of paving the way for sustainable development.
Gender equity will be another hot topic at the Summit, according to the U.N. News Centre.
Women and girls suffer disproportionately from violent conflict, natural disasters and poverty. Humanitarian experts widely agree that increasing females’ access to healthcare, protection from violence, reproductive services and education is absolutely central to sustainable development.
As U.N. Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien put it, “if you get it right for girls and women, you get it right for development.”
Despite the need for strong, unified action on humanitarian issues, funding problems continue to present considerable barriers to progress. According to The Guardian, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has repeatedly lamented “the ever-growing funding gap for humanitarian needs.”
Regardless, this May’s World Humanitarian Summit represents a welcome opportunity to reinvigorate political will towards these ends.