Reflections from the World Humanitarian Summit

 In Advocacy Hub

Nine EU-CORD members attended the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in May, and as a network we worked in the preparations for the summit, including attending the global consultations and being featured in the UN OCHA Publication for the WHS ‘Together We Stand‘. Our thematic focuses have been the role of faith actors in humanitarian action, disability-inclusion, and humanitarian principles. As a network we have endorsed the Charter for Disability Inclusion in Humanitarian Action.

 In this article those who attended the Summit from EU-CORD member organisations reflect on what took place at the summit, the commitments made, and what it means going forward.

Jim Ingram, CEO Medair:

Jim IngramThe first ever World Humanitarian Summit was an important beginning towards a global commitment to meet the growing challenges of the largest ever humanitarian crises. It was great to see the recognition of the role that faith plays in the recovery of hope in the midst of extreme crisis. The renewed commitment to the core humanitarian principles is crucial to future success. The strong affirmation and recognition of the Disabilities Charter was a highlight amidst all the noise. However, questions remain: is there sufficient global will to turn commitments into action? How will the commitments of the various stakeholders be monitored?

Christel Mulder, Disaster Response Officer Dorcas:

Christel MulderThe summit has been a starting point for many initiatives, not a final destination. We as Dorcas have decided to take on the following points of action: Firstly, we will mobilise actors in our sphere of influence to honour humanitarian war rights and refugee agreements. States should be pressured to end bombings of hospitals, taking over cities, and capturing refugees or sending them back. Humanitarian aid is all about protection of people. Secondly, we will support southern organisations in reaching their goals so they can start to play a larger role within the humanitarian ecosystem. Thirdly Dorcas has signed the charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action and by doing so we commit ourselves to

Dorcas at the WHS

Dorcas at the WHS

take all steps to meet essential needs of persons with disabilities and to promote the protection, safety and respect for the dignity of persons with disabilities in situations of risk. Lastly, we emphasise the importance of humanitarian principles when providing humanitarian aid during armed conflicts and natural disasters. We will strive to live out these principles actively and also keep other actors – such as states – accountable to them.

Mark Simmons, CEO Cord:

From my perspective, four themes dominated the World Humanitarian Summit: localisation, faith, political will, and the distinctiveness (or not) of humanitarian and development assistance.   Although the Summit’s commitments are non-binding, if we – governments and civil society alike – live up to them we will have come a long way.  Aid would be more relevant to local needs and more accessible to local organisations.  Faith-based actors would be more included, and hopefully more inclusive.  They would be recognised as first responders and sources of provision and comfort, and would live up to these expectations.  Spiritual, emotional and social need would be as relevant as physical need.  Politicians globally would recognise their responsibilities, their citizens’ rights, and the needs and well-being of all people.

To see a video of Mark being interviewed at the Summit click here

They would take decisions that go beyond narrow considerations of power, wealth and influence.  They would accept that leaving no-one behind means making difficult political choices.  And the unit of measurement for effectiveness would not be outputs and activities but people: their needs; their expectations; their enthusiasm; their experiences of transformation. What was missing for me in the summit was the love.  Each of us is motivated to respond to need not by politics or economics but by compassion and love, and if we keep this sense of personality and unconditionality we will have had an even more successful Summit.

Nazmul Bari, Director Centre for Disability in Development (CDD) (a partner of Light for the World):

Nazmul Bari

Nazmul Bari

The WHS was a good platform to raise the urgency for inclusive humanitarian actions, highlight the positive roles of persons with disabilities as contributors, and to gain support for the Charter on Inclusion of Persons with disabilities in humanitarian actions. It was great that persons with disabilities were at the forefront to raise support for the charter. It is a step forward that a number of states, international and national organizations, Disabled Peoples Organizations have endorsed the Charter. The Secretary General has supported the inclusion of persons with disabilities in humanitarian actions as well as the Charter. It was strongly highlighted in his closing remarks. However, it is essential to gain support from more states, from the north and the south and from more mainstream humanitarian agencies. It is also essential that the commitments that have been made are now translated into action and made meaningful for the persons with disabilities who are faced with crisis situation, everyday, in all corners of the world. We all have to act together and act now!

Ane de Vos, Institutional Relations Manager ZOA:

Arco and Ane at the WHS

Arco and Ane at the WHSArco and Ane at the WHS

This text is taken from a longer piece written by multiple authors for Kerk in Actie which can be accessed in Dutch here

…In many aspects this Summit was maybe more a starting point than an end point on a number of crucial initiatives. For ZOA this means the following:

First, we want to help to increase the Dutch public support for the observance of humanitarian law and refugee conventions. The pressure on national states must be increased to put an end to the bombing of hospitals, besieging of cities or the detention of returning refugees. Protection of human beings is an important part of humanitarian action.

Secondly, we will support our southern partner organisations in their efforts to play a greater and more independent role in the humanitarian ecosystem. The adage at the summit was: as locally as possible, and as international as needed.

Thirdly, we will follow and where possible participate in a number of initiatives taken at the Summit to strengthen humanitarian aid:

  • initiatives for prevention and reduction of the risk of (natural) disasters, whether or not related to climate change;
  • the “Grand Bargain” which aims to substantially increase the funding of aid and make it more accessible to local organizations, more transparent and less bureaucratic;
  • the ‘One Billion coalition for resilience’, which aims to strengthen the resilience of people to disaster;
  • the coalition for innovation of aid;
  • the charter for inclusion of people with disabilities in humanitarian action;
  • the alliance for better help in crises urban areas, initiatives to improve the position of women and girls in crisis areas and the initiatives for the use of cash in humanitarian response.

Daniel Zetterlund, CEO IAS:

This text is taken from a longer reflective piece written by Daniel which can be accessed here.

See Daniel being interviewed at the WHS by clicking here

See Daniel being interviewed at the WHS by clicking here

The role of faith and its relevance in humanitarian action was also for the first time brought to a global level. We work in contexts of faith where people believe. Faith, not the absence of it, is the norm for most people. Faith moves us into action. Pushes us forward. Faith can move mountains. There was no consensus reached around the role of faith, but it is now on the agenda. Something which we need to take into consideration. A good initiative in this regard is the Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local Communities. Its research and evidence papers around the role of faith in humanitarian action are important and worth reading.

Financing was another theme discussed at the WHS. The Grand Bargain is one of the suggested solutions. The idea is that donors will commit to more flexible, multi-year funding, with less burdensome reporting requirements, in exchange for major agencies committing to greater transparency and collaboration and reduced management costs. Today we assist more people in need than ever before. Yet, this is not enough, there are still proportionally even more people in need than previously. There simply isn’t enough cash in the system. We have to both spend it right and expand the circle of donors. This also touches on the nexus on what separates humanitarian from longer term development aid. From a practitioners perspective this is more or less irrelevant and the line is blurred. Surely there are different normative frameworks that guard the two systems, but the person at the center receiving assistance couldn’t care less if the assistance received is to be categorized as humanitarian or development aid. In light of this it was refreshing to hear at least some donors committing to allocate multi-year funding for humanitarian action, something we and the NGO community have long advocated for.

Special Session on Inclusion at the WHS

The Special Session at the WHS on the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action was a key moment

Many of the solutions proposed during the WHS are not new. They’ve been around for some time and should, to some degree, also be viewed as certainties, such as putting people at the center. Nevertheless, and something which was my personal expectation, it can hopefully provide a reference point for further dialogue. A dialogue aimed at identifying constructive commitments and decisions by Member States, UN, NGOs, corporates and individuals. There will be a need to exhort enormous political will clothed in great humility if we shall get this underway.



For more information on the World Humanitarian Summit and what EU-CORD did in the run-up to it please see our article on disability-inclusive humanitarian action here, on the role of faith actors here, on humanitarian principles here, and for an overview see our article here. EU-CORD has also been featured in a UN OCHA publication for the World Humanitarian Summit, you can see a digital copy by clicking here.

Photo credits:

  1. Cover: The WHS Secretariat
  2. Medair Andrew Robinson
  3. Dorcas
  4. Youtube
  5. CDD
  6. Elif Öztürk/Anadolu Agency
  7. ZOA
  8. IAS
  9. The WHS Secretariat
  10. Dorcas

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