In the final countdown to the World Humanitarian Summit, held in Istanbul, Turkey, from May 23-24, the time is ripe to reassess the humanitarian sector, summarise the latest developments and chart the areas for future policies and mechanisms to oversee the international aid architecture. International donors have pledged to not only tackle but bring an end to the largest humanitarian crises being witnessed over fragile states and protracted crises through committed funding and financing of the aid system. The UN Secretary General, in his report for the World Humanitarian Summit One Humanity: Shared Responsibility, which sets the agenda for the Summit, highlighted the need for reforms in the international humanitarian system to better support locally led and owned humanitarian responses. He places considerable emphasis on ending need through an approach which reinforces local systems, anticipates crisis and transcends the humanitarian development divide.
There is increasing recognition that aid operations are being undertaken against a backdrop of intense geopolitical activity. The politicisation of aid and the perception of its politicisation is the main challenge to principled humanitarian action, particularly in conflict affected states.
Out of the overall funding by UK AID, only 10% is committed to disaster prevention and preparedness, while reconstruction relief is 2% while maximum commitment is towards humanitarian response at 86.5%. The projected funding for humanitarian response in 2016-2017, has reduced by half its commitment to disaster funding. The UN Secretary General, in One Humanity: Shared Responsibility, highlights that reforms in the international humanitarian system should reinforce local systems, anticipates crisis and transcends the humanitarian development divide.
This particularly poses challenge to countries suffering from protracted crises like Somalia, Yemen and Syria, and others like Nepal who face reconstruction challenge with little external support and internal capacities. It puts humanitarian NGOs in precarious position with the larger call for bridging humanitarian-development divide. In light of the commitments to climate change and sustainable development goals, what should we expect from this Humanitarian Summit?
It is without doubt, that delivering responses must therefore become a combination of short, medium and longer-term interventions. This requires efforts to bridge and integrate humanitarian with development efforts to ensure that programmes are holistic and impacts are sustainable.
However Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), has recently pulled out of the summit in disagreement with the summit agenda, that bridging this gap undermines the independence of humanitarians who uphold values of independence and neutrality, and cannot be held responsible for longer-term development that has to be done in conjunction with local governments. A research report published by ODI argues that the humanitarian system needs to let go of its own exceptionalism and accept that different forms of relief – from development organisations, religious organisations and private sector companies – can co-exist and can be equally legitimate. These and many other critical observations are crucial to define a paradigm shift. A recent article in WashingtonPost brings into light the aid agencies from the Global South who want to be heard in the Summit and rightfully demand a larger role in the aid architecture.
Lets keep our fingers crossed, while we keep the conversations going about how we can reform our outdated ways of thinking and resistance to change.