World Humanitarian Summit: Indecision is not an option
By Gareth Price Jones, CARE’s Senior Humanitarian Policy and Advocacy Coordinator
With humanitarian crises in the Middle East, Africa and Asia having reached the shores of Europe — and in some ways the U.S. — political attention is finally fixed at what is perhaps the greatest challenge of our time: Reversing the trend of ever-greater numbers of people deprived and displaced by war or natural disasters, and the failure to provide them the dignified assistance they need. The World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul May 23-24 offers an historic opportunity to address that challenge.
I fear this opportunity will be missed, however, as we have seen only tweaks proposed to the system of how we respond to crises, when what we need is a fundamental change in how we prepare for them and even prevent them from happening. We don’t just need a new icing on the cake, we need a whole new recipe for how to bake it.
More than 125 million women, men, boys and girls depend on emergency assistance. In response, at least $20 billion is needed this year alone. Only half of the required money was funded last year. This funding gap is set to grow exponentially, leaving increasingly more people without enough food, clean water, safe shelter or essential services. It will mean lives parked indefinitely in refugee camps — or lost altogether. Trends suggest things will get worse. If you look at the impact of extreme weather like El Niño, the crises in Syria and Yemen, and the conflicts and wars that happen far from media headlines, you don’t need to be a humanitarian expert to draw a grim picture.
And no degree of effectiveness or realistic amount of funding will be enough to meet even the most basic humanitarian needs if world leaders base their decisions within the same parameters as before. The World Humanitarian Summit must launch a new era in which new government departments agree on new ways of collaborating, where leaders commit to new funding, where inter-governmental initiatives address topics such as International Humanitarian Law, protection compliance, resilience and climate change.
So far, not enough governments or their heads of state have confirmed their attendance in Istanbul. Without the highest-ranking politicians at the table, decisions will not be made and statements will have less power to drive change.
CARE urges world leaders to come to Istanbul and agree on key actions that will prevent a global humanitarian crisis from spiraling out of control. The UN Secretary General’s report sets out the five key responsibilities. What we need to see are concrete initiatives by UN members that lay out how individual countries will contribute to a world where those responsibilities are met.
At the same time, NGOs such as CARE have a responsibility not just to advocate for change but to assess their own systems. CARE has made four commitments to change the quality and quantity of our own humanitarian response:
- Strengthen our work in conflicts.
- Empower women and girls as first responders in humanitarian crises.
- Scale up financial resources for humanitarian action, climate change and disaster risk reduction.
- Support and build the capacity of local partners.
On May 11, 1946, the first CARE Packages were distributed in France to save the lives of war-weary survivors. Seventy years later, as we stare new crises in the face, we have the chance to shape the way we work in humanitarian contexts.
In a world of need, we can’t afford indecision in Istanbul.
Gareth Price Jones is CARE’s Senior Humanitarian Policy and Advocacy Coordinator