The World Humanitarian Summit

Earlier this week, on Monday and Tuesday (May 23-24), I had the privilege and fortune to attend, as an observer, the first World Humanitarian Summit. Fifty-five heads of state joined 9,000 participants. Officials and representatives from 173 member-state governments, private sector networks and firms, and citizen organizations participated in the summit. Indeed, the Summit Chair is correct: “The United Nations in its 70 years has never come together at this scale, with this many different stakeholders, to discuss the pressing challenges that are resulting in so much suffering today.”

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon echoed these words on Monday. “We are all here because global humanitarian action is unprecedentedly strained. I proposed this Summit four years ago out of concern for rising humanitarian needs and declining political will. Today, the urgency has only grown.” “This is a 21st century United Nations gathering,” Mr. Ban continued, adding that its Agenda for Humanity, the guiding document of the summit document, was based on three years of consultations with 23,000 people in more than 150 countries. Ban emphasized: “We are here to shape a different future. Today we declare: We are one humanity, with a shared responsibility.”

The World Humanitarian Summit was a best practice of an inclusive, open, comprehensive, and multi-stakeholder process. Doing it this way was essential to harness the skills, experience and resources required to respond to the magnitude of the humanitarian challenges that confront the world. The summit did not fail in this respect. As the first Chair describes: “Over the past three years, the Summit has consulted world leaders, civil society, international, national and regional organizations, NGOs, the private sector, academia, technical experts and, most importantly, people affected by crises. The Summit brought together the thousands of participants who responded to my Call to Action by making commitments and launching initiatives in the leaders’ segment, seven high-level roundtables, 15 special sessions, 132 side events, and two days of plenary; as well as the exhibition fair and innovation market place.”

I was there to attend and speak at one side event. “Time to Collaborate: Enabling Local Leaders” was jointly convened academic institutions, private companies, and citizen organizations. These included Alwaleed Philanthropies, Ateneo School of Government, BRAC, Concern Worldwide, Forum Bangun Aceh, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Humanitarian Leadership Academy, International Medical Corps, Kenya Red Cross Society, Oxfam, Start Network, and Unilever. Our event emphasized the importance of collaboration at all levels-global, regional, national and local-so that humanitarian efforts are more effective.

During my talk, I emphasized that strong humanitarian leadership is essential to deliver timely and appropriate humanitarian responses at the quality and scale required. But humanitarian leadership is not limited to the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinators who are deployed to lead large scale responses. In fact, as I illustrated through concrete examples from the Philippines, humanitarian leadership exists at all levels-from the head teacher of a high school to a farmer or indigenous person to a corporate humanitarian worker. I emphasized the importance of identifying, enabling, nurturing and supporting a critical mass of leaders for the necessary humanitarian work while also paying attention to build institutions.

As for outcomes, the final document of the summit describes what has been achieved: Governments recognized the importance of political will to effectively prevent and end conflicts, to address root causes, reduce fragility and strengthen good governance. Such prevention and resolution “would be the biggest difference leaders could make to reduce overwhelming humanitarian needs.” The truth is that humanitarian action cannot replace necessary political action: “Leaders recognized this could only happen if words and good intentions were now replaced with united leadership, collective and decisive action, and a genuine commitment to comply with the international frameworks countries had agreed on. A complementary approach to conflict prevention would be necessary, bringing together preventive diplomacy and sustainable development, addressing climate change, upholding human rights, and building inclusive societies.”

The summit also overwhelmingly affirmed that there must be greater attention to address root causes of conflict, and to reduce fragility by greater investment in inclusive and peaceful societies. Participants called for an approach that truly engaged communities, civil society and youth, and for the equal participation of women in leadership roles and peace building processes.

The refugee issue, among others, was prominent in the summit, because there are over a million refugees in Turkey. Participants praised the leadership and generosity of countries and communities hosting large numbers of refugees, but recognized that global displacement is our shared responsibility. Many agreed on the need to better share responsibilities to address large movements of refugees. They also resolved to pursue a new approach to address the needs of internally displaced persons and refugees that would meet immediate humanitarian needs and longer-term development outcomes to enhance the self-reliance of refugees, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and host communities. To bring this vision into action, a number of participants pledged to create livelihood and education opportunities for displaced people and committed more predictable and multi-year funding.

Education Cannot Wait -a Fund for Education in Emergencies was launched at the Summit to support the delivery of quality education to all children in emergencies and protracted crises by 2030. Multi-stakeholder groups also launched the first-ever Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action, and a Compact for Young People in Humanitarian Action.

Finally, a new global partnership for preparedness (GPP), led by the Vulnerable Twenty (V20) Group of Ministers of Finance of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, which represents 43 high-risk developing nations, was launched in Istanbul. The partnership will strengthen preparedness capacities initially in 20 countries, so they attain a minimum level of readiness by 2020 for future disaster risks mainly caused by climate change.

Roberto B. Tan, treasurer of the Philippines, representing the chair of the V20, pointed out that the goal of the partnership with the international community is to make sure that when disasters strike, the mechanisms and support are in place so people can get back on their feet as soon as possible, therefore minimizing the impact on development gains and preventing uncontrolled humanitarian crises. According to Tan: “We know investment in preparedness saves lives and dollars and thus makes financial and economic sense. If we plan ahead, we will create a situation where instead of wave after wave of climate-driven natural disasters destroying what gains communities have made, they can pick up their lives again as soon as possible. Crises such as those from natural disasters and effects of climate change should no longer spin out of control.”

Aside from Treasurer Tan, the Philippines was also ably represented by its head of delegation, Social Welfare and Development Secretary Dinky Soliman and our disaster chief Undersecretary Alexander Pama. Aside from government officials, Philippine civil society and the private sector were also active members of the delegation. Clearly, with our recent disaster experiences, we are now better in responding to them. Other countries look up to us. One hopes that the lessons we have learned and the capacity we have built will not be lost as we transition to the new administration.

Source: The Standard