Overcoming Obstacles to Meeting Humanitarian Need

Afghanistan has endured conflict for the last 38 years. The Democratic Republic of the Congo—for 20 years. Somalia—17. Iraq and the Sudan—13. Syria—for 5 years. These and many other protracted conflicts the world over consume 80 per cent of humanitarian financing, displace families for decades, generate new humanitarian appeals year on year and devour dollars. The economic cost of conflict was estimated to account for 13 per cent of the global economy in 2014. While an earthquake, tsunami, cyclone, flood or volcanic eruption could happen at any time, conflict is a man-made phenomenon that stands as an obstacle to meeting humanitarian needs, and we can do something about it.

The urgent need to achieve better solutions for millions of people whose lives are torn apart by conflict and violence was one of the drivers of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s decision to hold the World Humanitarian Summit on 23 and 24 May 2016 in Istanbul. The Summit was set up to gather leaders, practitioners, investors, academics and innovators from all regions and backgrounds to discuss and commit to better aid delivery for the world’s most vulnerable people. As we move forward, we realize that these changes will work only if leaders dedicate themselves to finding answers to four complex challenges that have hampered our progress: preventing and resolving conflicts, upholding international humanitarian law, implementing better solutions for those who are forcibly displaced, and rethinking humanitarian financing.

First and most fundamentally, at the Summit and beyond we are looking to leaders to show greater political commitment to preventing and ending conflicts—getting this right would spell significant positive change for millions of people worldwide. As Abu Mohamed, a father in Yemen’s conflict-ridden Sana’a said, standing in the remnants of his former home: “Safety. That’s the only thing we need. Safety and protection. All the rest is not as important.” In the months and years to come, we need to demonstrate firm commitment to improving early action based on sound risk analysis; greater focus on risk reduction by, among other measures, shoring up support to fragile States; and efforts to strengthen the impact of mediation and resolution.

Secondly, we must do more to put into practice the rules of international humanitarian law that bind all States and are aimed at protecting civilians caught up in conflict and violence. In modern conflict settings, these rules are all too often violated with impunity: civilians are besieged to the point of starvation, and they are killed in their homes, in hospital beds, marketplaces and schools by indiscriminate bombing. Humanitarian and health-care workers habitually risk detainment, kidnapping or death as they try to reach people in need. At the Summit and thereafter, we seek to strengthen the implementation of these laws and norms through practical actions. Such actions will address all aspects of international humanitarian law implementation, spanning commitments from States, militaries and civil society to collect data on the humanitarian impacts of the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas. They will include applying greater political pressure on warring parties when they arbitrarily refuse humanitarian access, and commitments by militaries to take practical measures to improve targeting so that fewer hospitals and health clinics are attacked.

Thirdly, new and protracted conflicts and weakened implementation of international laws have contributed to the worst forced-displacement crisis since the Second World War. Five countries mired in violence produced over half of the people forcibly displaced both internally and across borders as at the end of 2014. At the Summit and in the future, we expect legal, policy and operational commitments from leaders to better meet the needs and rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees. We are looking for sustainable solutions that enable IDPs to choose a path to self-reliance through work and education, to lead dignified lives, to not just survive but to thrive, in accordance with the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. As the struggle over burden-sharing on behalf of refugees continues—seven countries currently host more than half of the world’s refugees—we will also work towards a stronger international framework for equitable responsibility-sharing for refugees. These solutions will have political, economic, social and humanitarian components, and they will apply to displaced populations as well as to host countries and communities.

Finally, we must overcome the financing challenge that has hobbled humanitarian action for years. From 2004 to 2014, the cost of humanitarian assistance rose by over 600 per cent, and despite donor generosity, we faced our largest humanitarian funding gap in 2015 due to soaring demand. We need to break this cycle of growing need and growing gaps by changing the way we conceptualize and finance need at its very foundations. Partners, including development and humanitarian actors, the private sector and government investors, need to work together, making vulnerability reduction our central goal. With that as our focus, we will move away from short-term financing for individual projects towards flexible, multi-year financing and programming, with more stress on funding national partners and Governments. Expanding and diversifying our resource base must be part of the solution, as recommended by the High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing. This entails exploring innovative financing options, from risk insurance to social safety nets, and diversifying the humanitarian funding base to include diaspora groups, the private sector and many other stakeholders. Only by recalibrating the way we conceive vulnerability funding will we be able to end the pattern of calling for more money each year and then lamenting yet another unprecedented funding gap at year’s end.

As we approach the Summit, I look forward to insights, ideas and bold commitments from stakeholders across the spectrum to overcome these obstacles in years to come. This Summit must mark a turning point at which we pledge to place the protection of our most vulnerable people at the heart of our collective action and shared responsibility.