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Humanitarian Summit long on commitments, short on delivery

9 June 20160 comments

An agreement that aid financing must be more efficient and locally-driven, making education a humanitarian priority and encouraging a preventative approach to conflict and disaster relief are the major outcomes of the world’s largest ever meeting of the humanitarian sector.

But critics say the recent World Humanitarian Summit, which saw a staggering 15,000 commitments made, failed to outline how outcomes for refugees, displaced persons and their hosts will be achieved in concrete terms.

Thousands of attendees, representing 173 countries, UN agencies, NGOs, civil society organisations, philanthropy, the private sector and academia attended the summit in Istanbul, where they simultaneously discussed a range of issues from aid financing, response to conflict and UN reform.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon outlined the difficulty of staging a meeting of such a large and disparate group or organisations and individuals.

“Aligning such a constellation of actors is inherently challenging,” he said.

Such a range of ideas from all actors involved meant that the summit was at times unwieldy and unfocused. But it also meant that many voices that do not traditionally have power were heard.

It was widely agreed that aid financing must be more efficient; with top 30 donors and aid agencies signing a ‘Grand Bargain’ to harmonise time-consuming donor proposals and reporting, among other things.

It was also agreed that the humanitarian sector must respond better to protracted conflict, against the backdrop of which 80 per cent of humanitarian responses takes place.

The Syrian war and the resulting refugee crisis have forced the realisation that this must be at the core of humanitarian work, the summit heard.

In the lead up to the Summit, Secretary General Ban had proposed a fairer approach to sharing the burden of refugees with host countries, and a target to reduce internal displacement by 50 per cent by 2030.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said the summit discussed in a refreshingly “sober way”. Yet while the needs of internally displaced persons and refugees were addressed, the ICRC said the Summit failed to pursue a more concrete approach.

“Both expectations and achievements of the World Humanitarian Summit were very modest,” said Jeff Crisp, a refugee analyst and former head of policy at the UN Refugee Agency, regarding forced displacement.

In the main session designed to discuss putting people affected by crises at the centre of humanitarian action, which was tacked on to the agenda belatedly, organisers had hopes for a clearer way to allow the end-users of aid to have a real influence.

This would include adopting a common approach to getting feedback from affected communities.

However when the time came, Kate Halff, executive secretary of Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response, believed the session was “very vague and very aspirational”.

A list of all the Summit’s individual and collective commitments was later drafted into a Commitments to Action platform and made publicly accessible, to allow attendees to hold themselves accountable for the commitments made.

Collected under the title ‘a new way of working’, they included:

  • Working to collective outcomes across the UN system and the broader humanitarian and development community;
  • Working over multi-year timeframes, recognizing the reality of protracted crises and aiming to contribute to longer-term development gains;
  • Better joined up humanitarian and development planning and programming processes to deliver better outcomes for people by moving beyond meeting their needs in the short term to reducing them over time
  • Using resources and capabilities better, improving SDG outcomes for people in situations of risk, vulnerability and crisis and shrinking humanitarian needs over the long-term; and,
  • Galvanising new partnerships and collaboration – such as through the private sector, local actors or Multilateral Development Banks – that provide additional capabilities and resources in support of achieving collective and measurable outcomes for people and communities.

But some critics said it was unclear how the commitments would be implemented.

Secretary General Ban promised an annual update that will review progress made in implementing the Summit’s commitments.

“I will propose ways on how to take commitments forward, including through intergovernmental and inter-agency avenues,” he said.


Sarah Gilmour
AMES Australia Staff Writer