The World Humanitarian Summit: A Pivot Point in Philanthropy’s Contribution to Addressing Humanitarian Crises

Originally published
View original


By Regine A. Webster and William Paton

Executive Summary

This paper calls on the philanthropic community to take advantage of the opportunity offered by the first World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in Istanbul in May 2016 to make important changes in the way it contributes its share of the global response to humanitarian crises.

In Section 1, the paper looks at the challenges shared by all who contribute, including the philanthropy sector. Section 2 discusses philanthropy’s current contributions and potential, including some of its shortcomings. Section 3 examines how the Summit is setting the stage for change—change for which philanthropy can be a greater part. Section 4 concludes the paper with a set of actionable recommendations for how philanthropy’s contribution to humanitarian crises can be greatly improved.

The stakes are high

One of the overarching goals of the WHS Summit is to redefine how the global community delivers for the world’s most vulnerable people. The Report of the Secretary-General for the World Humanitarian Summit lays out five core responsibilities that are being used to drive the Summit’s discussions:

  • Political leadership to prevent and end conflicts
  • Upholding the norms that safeguard humanity
  • Leaving no one behind - Changing people’s lives—from delivering aid to ending need
  • Investing in humanity

The stakes leading up to and following the Summit have never been higher. Humanitarian needs around the world have risen dramatically in just the last decade, due to both increased conflict and increased disasters provoked by natural hazards, with the former receiving about 80 percent of humanitarian resources and the latter 20 percent.

The causes for ongoing conflicts are complex and debatable but the trend is not, including bleak prospects for more displacement crises. According to WHS projections: “Around the world more than 60 million people have fled their homes due to conflicts and violence, the highest number since World War II. However, many current approaches to large-scale movements of displaced populations—internally displaced persons, refugees and asylum seekers—have proven inadequate and unsustainable. They also ignore the need for better sharing of our collective responsibility for such populations.”

Additionally, natural disasters are steadily rising. In the last 2 decades, an average of 218 million people each year were affected by natural disasters. The UN estimates in their Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction 2015 that global average annual losses in the built environment associated with tropical cyclones (wind and storm surge), earthquakes, tsunamis and floods now average $314 billion per year, and will increase to $415 billion by 2030.

For any type of emergency, the causes of increased risk include failure of national governance, failure of global governance, lack of funding to mitigate risk, and the risk of multiple shocks caused by such events as financial crises, spiking food prices and violent extremism. There are also groups of people who face specific risks because of who they are – including women, children, and the elderly. For example, disasters kill more women than men, and hit women’s livelihoods hardest. Sixty percent of all maternal deaths take place in humanitarian settings and all forms of gender-based violence against women and girls spike during disasters and conflict.