The World Humanitarian Summit is a Siren Call

The World Humanitarian Summit is a Siren Call

The World Humanitarian Summit is a siren call.

Humanitarian action is a global imperative rather than a time when it was the "fat pink ladies" who went to save the "poor people" around the world. We no longer need moral justifications to support humanitarian action. The crises around the world are blindingly interconnected and their impacts will be sorely felt in the tidiest little hamlets and the most placid little suburban neighbourhoods. 

First, let's deal with some of the criticisms:

The New York Times states the Summit is thin on substance.

As per the lack of G7 leader presence, it would certainly be welcome but it is ultimately unnecessary. The commitments are there and they are as broad and audacious as the original MDGs. If there is any complaint, it is that the commitments are not that innovative. They are codifying what has been going on for some time and that will continue to go on with fits and starts, successes and setbacks. 

Anyone who seeks a nice, tidy package for world leaders to gush over misunderstands the nature of humanitarian action. When you are trying to save lives in Syria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, CAR, DRC, Afghanistan and countless other places around the world, it is bound to be messy and achingly bereft of easy solutions. 

Foreign Policy thinks that MSF's pull-out is a sign of the Summit's failure and that it is not based on a formal agreement. 

MSF's pull out is only one out of hundreds of organisations. MSF is saying more about their own organisation than the WHS. The question is why no other organisation followed this move? 

As per the lack of a consolidated agreement, the WHS is a culmination of 5 regional conferences (and countless lateral and multi-lateral discussions) where the five commitments and their details were agreed. The WHS is designed to sign-off on these and to explore the issues associated with making them living principles rather than hollow promises. If the WHS creates come momentum in this direction, it has served its purpose. 

So, what do we need to do at the Humanitarian Summit?

I know it makes for better press to simply attack and such an event has plenty of targets. The protection of aid workers, MSF's point, is one. We need to protect the people who put their lives on the line day in and day out, year in and year out, for those most in need.

The need for reforming humanitarian finance is another key issue. Currently, humanitarian actors make huge appeals with considerable inflation only to be knocked down to have the appeal amounts halved by the donors. Funding humanitarian action shouldn't be like negotiating car deal.

The need to invest in solid data infrastructure and architecture (leveraging the proliferation of smart phones and telephony networks) so we know what the hell is going on on-the-ground is also needed. data will allow us to be quick, adaptive, and effective in the most complicated operating environments in the world. 

Mostly, we need to get the world to recognise that humanitarian crises are on the rise and, more and more, have global implications.

One need to look at Syria to see this. Yet, it isn't the only one. As global political structures become more frayed and fractured and climate change takes its increasing toll, global humanitarian needs are on a sharp incline. It will include a steady increase in refugees and people displaced. It will include a further epidemic of radical thought geared at the dispossessed and frightened who will follow these calls toward desperate acts. it will include sudden, violent shocks from earthquakes and tsunamis. It will include the rise of water as commodity for the rich. it will include violence and barbarism that will make us wonder about our children's and grandchildren's world. 

We've moved well beyond the altruistic or real-politic rationales from the past. We are facing global humanitarian crises whose scope and impact will challenge all of us.

Was the World Humanitarian Summit worth it?

Was the World Humanitarian Summit worth it?

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