What was the World Humanitarian Summit?

On 23-24 May 2016 in Istanbul, the UN Secretary-General hosted the World Humanitarian Summit. The Summit aimed to help countries and communities respond better to crises.

Around 9,000 people from 173 countries came to the Summit, including 55 Heads of State and Government. They discussed how to manage forced displacement and how to respond to crisis situations.

The Summit had three main goals:

  • To reinvigorate a commitment to humanity and to the universality of humanitarian principles
  • To begin some actions and commitments to help countries better prepare for and respond to crises
  • To share best practices.

The Secretary-General called on global leaders to commit to five core responsibilities:

  • Prevent and end conflict
  • Respect rules of war and uphold the norms that safeguard humanity
  • Leave no one behind
  • Work differently to end need
  • Invest in humanity

These commitments were formalised in a Political Communique signed by over 70 countries (including Australia) before the Summit was held.

What did it achieve?

The Summit resulted in:

  • agreement on more efficient financing of aid, including a ‘Grand Bargain’ package of reforms, and new initiatives for innovative financing
  • targets to direct more funding to local and national NGOs, and the establishment of a NEAR network to reshape the humanitarian and development system around equitable, dignified and accountable partnerships
  • the launch of the Education Cannot Wait fund
  • a new Charter on inclusion of people with disabilities humanitarian action
  • a greater focus on preventing and mitigating risks, and
  • the establishment of the Regional Organisations Humanitarian Action Network (ROHAN), formalising a greater role for regional organisations in humanitarian work.

How useful was the Summit?

The Summit received mixed reviews, highlighting both its successes and failures.

In the week leading up to the Summit, one of its participants, Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF), decided not to go. MSF said that there was little to no emphasis on humanitarian action and emergency response.

MSF and others were also concerned that the Summit did not make  enough of a distinction between NGOs and government bodies. At the Summit, all participants were asked to sign up to the core commitments which, it was argued in the Guardian, had the effect of minimising the responsibility of governments.

Jeff Crisp of the Oxford University’s Refugee Studies Centre also expressed concern about the ambiguous and non-binding nature of the plans set out in the Summit. He argued that this would mean those who came would simply ‘return to business as usual’.

On the other hand, the Summit was praised for dealing with meeting the needs of people with disabilities in crisis situations. IRIN managing editor, Heba Aly, commended the Summit for getting nearly 100 governments and aid agencies to sign on to a Charter addressing people with disabilities in humanitarian action.

Participants also considered the ‘Education Cannot Wait’ fund a major success. The Fund finally presented education as a humanitarian priority and, according to IRIN, recognised that education is just as important as food and shelter in a crisis.