NEW YORK — On April 20, 2015, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon provided remarks on the status of the regional consultations for next year’s first-ever World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey. Addressing current humanitarian crises in Somalia and deadly migration across the Mediterranean Sea, these remarks proved why the global community needs the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) now and its establishment is long overdue.
What is the World Humanitarian Summit?
The WHS was initiated by the U.N. Secretary General as a global action to create positive change in humanitarian efforts ranging from local response to the world’s response. It is meant to be a globally collective interactive summit that includes all humanitarian actors: people and communities affected by conflict and disasters, national governments and regional organizations, as well as governmental, supranational and nongovernmental humanitarian agencies and organizations.
The WHS is particularly different because the agenda is completely dependent on regional and specialized consultations occurring in the previous two years that includes all regional and specialized humanitarian actors. Unlike other summits, the agenda has not been set in advance and the talking points are more regionally inclusive.
Another difference between WHS and other summits is that open and equal dialogue is at the core of its purpose. The regional consultations take place in the following regions: Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern and Southern Africa, Europe and others, global, Middle East and North Africa, North and South East Asia, Pacific, South and Central Asia and West and Central Africa. It aims to be inclusive and cost-effective. By the convening of the WHS in May 2016, two years of consultations will have taken place. These regional consultations take place at regional locations and through a regionally specific online forum on the WHS website. The in-person (convenes for two to three days) and online events (one month to contribute thoughts) are given great importance.
The summit’s regional themes are: humanitarian effectiveness, reducing vulnerability and managing risks, transformation through innovation and serving the needs of those in conflict. The specialized technical themes are: civil-military dialogue, global forum for improving humanitarian action, power of business in emergencies and urban dialogue. These themes are broad in order to bring all ideas and concerns on the table without semantic constraints.
Why Do We Need the World Humanitarian Summit?
Within ten years, the number of people affected by humanitarian crises has doubled. Furthermore, humanitarian crisis are becoming more frequent. There are 50 million displaced people; a figure that has not been this high since 1945. This figure has been quickly climbing due to crises in countries such as Syria, the Central African Republic and South Sudan.
Infrastructure for protecting refugees, abating conflicts, providing medical assistance and other humanitarian concerns has failed in some areas from a technical standpoint. For example, despite modern technology to assist in the coordination to protect refugees fleeing from conflicts, two thousand migrants have died while trying to reach Europe by the Mediterranean Sea since the beginning of 2015. There are many issues at play as to how this deeply unfortunate catastrophe could happen. The WHS aims to fully discuss all of the ideas as to how to prevent humanitarian crises and the concerns of humanitarian actors in humanitarian coordination. WHS does not seek to simply discuss problems and continue working in the same way, but rather it aims to lay the framework for a consistent, cost-effective and efficient form of global humanitarian coordination.
There has been some criticism as to how effective this summit could be and that it may be too advantageous, but what remains apparent is that a summit like this is needed. Chief Secretariat of the World Humanitarian Forum responded to some skeptics, “We need to manage expectations,” she said. “I don’t see the summit as the end point. I think the summit will lay the groundwork to set out key areas that require shifting.”
Online Regional Consultation Forum for MENA Humanitarian Issues
Most recently there was a regional consultation held in-person in the Middle East North Africa region from March 3 to March 5 in Dead Sea, Jordan and the online forum was open from Jan. 19 to Feb. 15.
The final report including the regional consultation convening in the Dead Sea is not yet available, but the online consultation is. The online consultation was very successful in that 4,000 individuals viewed the discussion and more than 300 comments were received in English and Arabic (from countries outside of and within MENA).
The online consultation report highlights main concerns such as reviewing counter-terrorism legislation for properly assisting those caught in the middle of armed conflict, sustainable funding for local NGOs, reducing strength of U.N. mandates for efficient and quick responses to crises, eliminating hierarchical stances of international NGOs towards local NGOs (particularly the view of sub-contracting organizations) and a proper policy that responds to internally displaced people.
One topic that received the most attention was ensuring dignity for internally displaced and refugee populations and ensuring that their lives do not become characterized by dependency on institutions. This issue is of particular concern because some host communities feel tension towards refugees and believe that they are too dependent meanwhile some refugees worry about their future with employment, education and livelihood and the possibility of reluctantly becoming dependent. This is an issue that resonates very well with Syrian displaced peoples.
This entire report along with the final report will be brought to the WHS next year.
The WHS appears to be a possibly effective way to fully discuss humanitarian issues. Since a discussion such as WHS has not occurred in over 25 years, it is a positive step towards combating humanitarian crises. As it is the first, it will undoubtedly have areas of improvement, but this summit shows that the world is not willing to sit idly by as it faces innumerable amounts of urgent humanitarian issues across the globe at a rate unseen since 1945.
– Courteney Leinonen
Sources: UN, IRIN, World Humanitarian Summit