What does the UN want to achieve from the first World Humanitarian Summit?

In 2016, nearly one in five of the 7.4 billion people on our planet live in fragile situations. This represents the highest level of suffering since World War II – and numbers are set to increase as conflict, violent extremism and natural disasters continue to cause massive global disruption.

In response to the escalating crisis Ban Ki-moon, United Nations secretary-general, has convened a World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul on May 23. This is the first event of its kind in the 70-year history of the UN, making a direct call to world leaders to rally together and commit to end human suffering by addressing our most urgent humanitarian challenges.

The summit will bring together heads of state and government, community leaders, businesses and humanitarian organisations to debate how we can improve our response to major humanitarian challenges and be better prepared to meet challenges of the future.

Ban Ki-moon has proposed an “Agenda for Humanity” – five key responsibilities to be at the heart of all decision-making at the global level:

  1. Prevent and end conflict
  2. Respect rules of war
  3. Leave no one behind
  4. Work differently to end need
  5. Invest in humanity

Shift in thinking

Point four in the Agenda for Humanity is possibly the most provocative. It urges a paradigm shift in the aid and development sectors, as global development partners increasingly argue that many crises are predictable and should not be seen as unique events.

In the simplest terms, a traditional aid response to an emergency focuses on providing food, water, shelter and medicine to meet basic human needs. Development, meanwhile, addresses the systemic levels of education, agriculture and healthcare, when a country is considered stable enough to engage with long-term planning. The two are rarely coordinated on the ground or at any level of governance or politics – even within the same organisation.

But “emergencies”, especially those caused by war, can now last decades. The world’s largest refugee camp, in Kenya, has accepted refugees from Somalia for nearly 25 years and there is widespread concern about where thousands of camp dwellers will live if Kenya follows through with plans to close the camp. The Syrian crisis, which began in 2011, shows no sign of ending any time soon.