Building an Agenda for Humanity

Humanitarian action has never reached so many people in so many places. Around the world, more actors than ever are involved in delivering life-saving assistance and protection to people in need: from Governments, which bear the primary responsibility for providing assistance to their people, to international and national organizations and net works, to businesses and private foundations.

Yet, despite the extraordinary work being done to save lives and protect people in crisis, the humanitarian system is under strain, trying to meet the highest level of need since the Second World War. Nearly 60 million people have been forced from their homes due to conflict and violence, and some 218 million people are affected by disasters each year.

Humanitarian crises cost the global economy millions. They halt or even reverse development gains. Each year the needs—and the costs—grow higher. Appeals led by the United Nations have increased from $3.4 billion in 2003 to $20 billion in 2016. At the same time, the gap between the scale of needs and the resources available to meet them is growing. Global action is desperately needed to reverse this trend.

This is why United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for a World Humanitarian Summit, the first event of its kind in the 70-year history of the United Nations. The Summit will be held in Istanbul from 23 to 24 May 2016.

A WORLDWIDE CONSULTATION

At the heart of the World Humanitarian Summit is the question of how to address the needs of growing numbers of people affected by or vulnerable to crises, while also preparing for a more risky and uncertain future. In calling for the Summit, the Secretary-General asked the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to conduct a worldwide consultation process to inform the search for solutions. In partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), OCHA established the World Humanitarian Summit secretariat to conduct the consultations.

Between June 2014 and October 2015, the Summit secretariat conducted the most comprehensive consultations on humanitarian action ever undertaken. To ensure that the search for solutions was based on and informed by the experience of all relevant stakeholders, the process included the views of affected people, Governments, civil society, humanitarian organizations, the private sector and other partners.

In total, the consultations reached more than 23,000 people in 153 countries. The findings from each part of the world were brought together in eight regional consultations, held in Abidjan, Amman, Auckland, Budapest, Dushanbe, Guatemala City, Pretoria and Tokyo. Thematic consultations also took place worldwide, including in Berlin, Bonn, Doha, Lausanne, New York and Singapore. Thousands more voices were heard through the power of digital communication, with people across the globe sending more than 5,500 comments online. The consultations culminated in a Global Consultation, which took place in Geneva in October 2014 and brought together more than 1,000 participants from around the world to review the outcomes of the process.

The findings of the consultations were presented in the report entitled Restoring humanity: global voices calling for action, which was released in September 2015. The report synthesized thousands of conversations and submissions, providing a “ground truthing” to the emerging recommendations. The consultations repeatedly called for putting people affected by crises at the heart of humanitarian action. They generated a demand for a vision of a world whose fundamental humanity is restored, a world where no one confronted by crisis who can be saved dies, goes hungry, or is victimized by conflict because there is not enough political will or resources to help them. The report called for decisive, collective action to uphold our shared responsibility to save lives and enable people to live lives of dignity.

THE CHALLENGE TO DELIVER IN A RAPIDLY CHANGING WORLD

The consultations highlighted the many ways in which the humanitarian landscape has changed since the adoption, in 1991, of the landmark General Assembly resolution 46/182, which created the international humanitarian system. In the twenty-first century, the factors that drive humanitarian need are converging to affect increasing numbers of people, leaving them more and more vulnerable to crisis.

Climate change, economic growth and inequality, food price volatility and resource scarcity have global impacts that extend beyond national boundaries. Demographic shifts, particularly rapid, unplanned urbanization, are putting more people at risk of the effects of natural disasters. Major civil wars, which drive more than 80 per cent of humanitarian needs, have increased from 4 in 2007 to 11 in 2014.

To meet these growing challenges and demands, the consultations emphasized the need for the humanitarian system to integrate new actors and new technologies into its work. In particular, they highlighted the frontline role of local actors, including Governments, regional organizations, non-governmental organizations, civil society groups, volunteer networks, faith-based actors, the private sector, and affected communities themselves. The consultations called for humanitarian preparedness, planning, response and recovery to be more inclusive of the diverse actors involved in meeting the needs of affected people around the world. Thanks to advances in technology, crisis-affected people themselves are also more empowered and connected, and they are demanding to drive responses. The future of humanitarian action must include the experiences and perspectives of this full range of actors to truly adapt to the challenges of the twenty-first century.

TOWARDS A NEW AGENDA FOR HUMANITY

In February 2016, the United Nations Secretary-General launched his report for the World Humanitarian Summit, entitled One Humanity: Shared Responsibility. The report takes into account the findings of the extensive consultations, as well as those from other key processes, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; the high-level panels on peace operations and humanitarian financing; the 2015 review of the United Nations peacebuilding architecture; the review of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security; the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030; and the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

Through the report, the Secretary-General calls for the need to place humanity—people’s safety, dignity and their right to thrive—at the centre of global decision-making, and puts forward an Agenda for Humanity, setting out the key actions and strategic shifts needed to deliver on this vision. He calls on Member States, the United Nations and humanitarian organizations, and other relevant stakeholders to support five core responsibilities: i) political leadership to prevent and end conflicts; ii) uphold the norms that safeguard humanity; iii) leave no one behind; iv) change people’s lives—from delivering aid to ending need; and v) invest in humanity. Taken together, the five core responsibilities of the Agenda for Humanity have the potential to change lives and to kick off a major shift in how the global community addresses human suffering by preparing for and responding to crises. Leaders are asked to start implementing the Agenda immediately after the Summit, and to make real progress within three years.

ISTANBUL: A TURNING POINT

The worldwide consultation process has generated an unprecedented call for change, a call echoed from the highest levels of United Nations leadership. Thousands of voices have called for the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit to be a turning point in how the world prepares for, prevents and responds to crises.

Building on our shared humanity and the strength that can be found in diversity, Istanbul is the moment for global leaders from Government, humanitarian organizations, business and civil society to commit to the five core responsibilities to make the Agenda for Humanity a framework for action, change and mutual accountability.

The World Humanitarian Summit must be a starting point to overcome division in the name of our shared humanity, and make a real difference in the lives of millions of women, men and children. Thousands of people from around the globe have demanded leadership to drive this change. It is my hope that Istanbul will be remembered as a moment when the world came together in solidarity to set this transformation in motion. We owe it to the millions of people affected by crises to deliver.