World Humanitarian Summit kicks can down the road

From an Opinion by Christina Bennett, research fellow with the Overseas Development Institute:

When the World Humanitarian Summit came to a close in Istanbul, a lot of people (myself included) felt conflicted. Was the all the expense, energy and intellect invested really worth it?  Were the interests of people in crisis served?

As expected, the Summit failed to secure a top line-up. The meeting failed to bring in political heavyweights. Angela Merkel was a stand-out presence but even the normally sanguine Ban Ki-moon expressed public disappointment that other G7 leaders were absent.

The meeting did deliver a Grand Bargain agreement on humanitarian financing. And its 10-point plan includes some important commitments including greater transparency, the increased use of cash instead of material assistance and making it easier to fund local responders. These are important steps in the right direction.

However, the woolly and qualified diplomatic language (‘The aim is to aspire to achieve…’) makes it unconvincing as a blueprint for reform. … We are no closer to ending the world’s most devastating conflicts than before the Summit began. So, as far as Summits go, the outcomes on the official front were underwhelming.

The Summit showcased the humanitarian system’s heightened focus on capturing the capacity and ingenuity of people and organizations beyond the old guard. It mobilized individuals and organizations – many of whom operate on the fringes – to take matters into their own hands and begin making the changes that have eluded the more established humanitarian sector.

But the Summit was long on rhetoric and short on action. Unfortunately, on the issues that matter most to refugees, the Summit only kicked the can down the road. Let’s hope it’s a new road.

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