World Humanitarian Summit

Farah Mustafa

Man-made crises, natural disasters, and disease have forced record numbers of people to flee from their homes. The United Nations says that a migration of this magnitude has not been witnessed by humanity since the Second World War. The grave state of the international humanitarian landscape has led the United Nations to inaugurate a World Humanitarian Summit.

This Leaders’ Summit took place from May 23 to 24, 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey with over 9,000 participants, including 55 Heads of State and representatives from 173 Member States. Additionally assembled were 700 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), 250 national and local NGOs and civil society organizations, 250 international NGOs, and 350 representatives from the private sector. This Summit was first called for by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his five-tiered five-year action plan in January 2012. The hope was that the World Humanitarian Summit would address commitments in five major areas outlined in the Secretary-General’s “Agenda For Humanity.” Commitments would include:

    (1) global leadership to prevent and end conflict;
    (2) uphoad the norms that safeguard humanity;
    (3) leave no one behind;
    (4) change people’s lives by delivering aid to ending need; and
    (5) investing in humanity.

Three Summit documents were issued: the Chair’s Summary, the Commitments to Action; and a report by Ban Ki-moon on follow up.

A total of 1500 commitments were established by the end of the Summit. While the sheer number of commitments indicates wide-ranging problems, there is skepticism over the enormous number of commitments. Several outlets and organizations have criticized the “crowdedness” of the Summit and the fact that major players and leaders did not take part. Doctors Without Borders, for instance, denounced the Summit and pulled out roughly three weeks prior to the summit, saying, “As shocking violations of international humanitarian law and refugee rights continue on a daily basis, WHS participants will be pressed to a consensus on non-specific, good intentions to ‘uphold norms’ and ‘end needs’.” Unlike previous summits, leaders did not enter this summit with existing “intergovernmental negotiations on serious reforms of the global humanitarian system.

The major commitment that issued from the Summit was the “Grand Bargain,” a reformation of the financing of emergency aid by 2020. Thirty top financing organizations agreed to commit 25 percent of their funding to local and national agencies. While unfortunately these are non-legally binding agreements, this agreement is to be followed up with yet to be announced meetings. This move, along with others, complimented the Summit’s commitment to improve “localization” of humanitarian aid in emergencies. This attempt to localize emergency funding and humanitarian aid is part of a restructuring of top-down humanitarian system. The Grand Bargain also resulted in increasing of Central Emergency Response Fund from $US500 million to $US1 billion.

Another major commitment that arose from the Summit was the Global Partnership for Preparedness by 2020, a collaboration within the V20 Group of Ministers of Finance of the Climate Vulnerable Forum. This commitment was designed to ensure that an initial group of 20 vulnerable countries will meet minimum standards for emergency preparedness for disasters – especially those caused by climate change. Countries would receive earlier access than before, and better analytic tools to assess dangers, be equipped with contingency plans and work with collaborators to develop social protection.

An additional major commitment is the Education Cannot Wait Fund. Less than 2 percent of humanitarian funding currently goes towards education, and this commitment aims to resolve that issue. While $US90 million has already been raised, the fund intends to raise a total of $US3.85 billion by 2021. Other major commitments agreed to include the effort to draw in disabled populations to a more practical degree through the signing of a Charter. Participants also came to the conclusions that agencies need to further invest in risk mitigation, test financing mechanisms and take into account climate.

While critics remain skeptical at the sheer commitment of leaders and parties, it is expected that the upcoming months will involve strategy meetings amongst leaders and organizations to execute the commitments at hand.


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