A mishmash of roads leading to Istanbul

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4 mar 2016 by Sietse Blom

Global humanitarian needs are reaching critical levels. The first-ever World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), to be held in Istanbul the 23rd-24th of May 2016, will provide a platform for the United Nations, governments and humanitarian organisations to discuss new venues for humanitarian assistance. Like elsewhere in the world, preparation meetings for the Summit in Europe and the Netherlands are well underway.

On February 18th, the European network of NGOs active in humanitarian aid VOICE and the Dutch Platform for Humanitarian Action convened the meeting ´The Road to Istanbul´ in The Hague. Here, the growing humanitarian challenges and the common road to the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul were key points for discussion. Young Cordaid professionals Sietse Blom and Milou Gunnink-de Bruijne attended this meeting.

Will the Summit in Istanbul lead to the ground-breaking results everybody hopes for?

This is the moment!

Initiatives such as this VOICE meeting are most relevant when looking at the growing global humanitarian needs and demands for assistance. Cordaid´s Director of Humanitarian Aid, Annelies Claessens, has to deal with these demands on a daily basis. Whether the Summit in Istanbul will create space for ground-breaking results is still very uncertain, she points out in her opening speech.

Subsequently, VOICE President Nicolas Borsinger emphasized the momentum for a strong agreement in Istanbul and thereafter. According to Borsinger the Netherlands, currently holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, is in the unique position to make a dedicated effort for an ambitious agreement to put humanitarian assistance (back) on the world agenda.

The meeting clearly revealed the challenges of uniting a significant number of positions, where participants did not eschew harsh critique on the current humanitarian aid system. Yet, it equally demonstrated the potency of such a broad network of VOICE members. Hope therefore arose from the recommendations made by both participants from within and outside the NGO-sector.

NGOs wondered about the absence of a discussion on the functioning of the United Nations in its recent report.

Mixed feelings with respect to the United Nations

Beginning of February, the Secretary General of the UN Ban Ki-Moon launched the WHS report One Humanity, Shared Responsibility, in which he describes his ideal future of humanitarian aid. In the report, he does not only call upon the humanitarian aid community to make a dedicated effort, but also admonishes governments to take up a collective responsibility for a humane world.

The report was received with mixed feelings by NGOs, as it does not reflect upon the functioning of the UN itself. Competition between the different UN agencies, meagre justification of expenditures and a lack of transparency are hampering effective humanitarian response, according to the VOICE members.

Next to this, international NGOs are not mentioned in the report, which was not appreciated by VOICE. Though, the attention for conflicts and the call upon governments to address political problems with political solutions was well-received.

Although the first-ever WHS may not lead to a perfect agreement, it may be a precedent of what is yet to come.

A mishmash of actors

Whereas the VOICE-members were like-minded with respect to the UN, they were not very united during the afternoon. It became clear that every member would bring its own ‘wish list’ to the WHS. And besides all countries, VOICE is just one actor among many. On top of this, CEO Perry Heijne of CARE Netherlands would like to see a clear role for the participation of enterprises and academia within the humanitarian field.

According to us, inclusivity of actors may contribute to the establishment of a well-supported strong agreement. As the establishment of the Sustainable Development Goals demonstrated, there are possibilities to obtain a far-reaching agreement with mishmash of actors.

Despite the sceptical notes of the participants, VOICE-president Borsinger paved the way for a hopeful future: ‘Paris would not be possible without Copenhagen’, he argued convincingly. With this, he stated that although the first-ever WHS may not lead to a perfect agreement, it may be a precedent of what is yet to come.

The diversity of actors present at the WHS will pose huge challenges, yet it also will provide a unique opportunity to work towards a widely supported agreement.

The road to the Summit

The widespread concern for a far-reaching WHS was well-visible, yet innovative ideas and positive notes predominated. The recent Paris climate agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals poke at the right direction. Paul van den Berg (Cordaid), president of the Platform for Humanitarian Action, concluded the meeting with recommendations from VOICE, the Dutch government and NGOs.

Predictable and sustainable financing of humanitarian assistance is one such recommendation. Also, the ODA-budget should be used for its initial goal, overseas development, not emergency shelter of refugees in the OECD countries. Furthermore, the diversity of actors present at the WHS will pose huge challenges, yet it will also provide a unique opportunity to work towards a widely supported agreement. The inclusivity of the private sector and academia could be a welcome addition for innovation.

These concluding notes prelude the end of a comprehensive day in The Hague’s New World Campus, paving the way for a somewhat more solid road to Istanbul.