A Year On From The World Humanitarian Summit


The flow of funds allocated by nations towards Official Development Assistance (ODA) depends on the commitment of state leaders and the political climate of cooperation. Participants to the UN Secretary General’s 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, held in Istanbul, Turkey, resolved to pursue a five-point ‘Agenda for Humanity’ to guide a package of reforms, known as the Grand Bargain. Collectively, the commitments reached last year were based on the shared desire to strengthen and coordinate the delivery of financial aid to meet rising levels of humanitarian demand and human suffering. Yet, a year on from the Summit, the world’s geopolitical environment has shifted substantially, thereby making commitments and a willingness to cooperate in united capacity much more challenging.

Former UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, convened the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit in late May 2016, in response to what he declared was a scale of “human suffering … greater than at any time since the Second World War.” Over nine thousand state and non-government agents participated in the Summit and agreed to commit to work collectively to meet a set of ‘core responsibilities’ to improve world humanitarian circumstances.

The first point on the ‘Agenda for Humanity’ was tabled as the need for demonstrated assertive “political will and leadership to prevent and end conflict.” Following from this point, governments were charged with the responsibility to create decisive people-centred policies that protect and uphold fundamental human rights. Building on solid political foundations would then allow agents to cohesively strengthen international laws to protect vulnerable people. The third point resolved to “Leave No One Behind” by bridging gaps in inequality between those displaced into statelessness due to violence and conflict. The final two points reaffirmed the need to strengthen human capacity by empowering individuals within their own communities and states through strategic investment flows aimed at promoting stable development.

While the ‘Agenda for Humanity’ provides an overarching frame, the Grand Bargain is the action plan agreed between government, non-government international aid agents, and private sector actors to achieve what the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has defined as an “ambitious, global and collective response…to shrink overall needs and deepen the resource base for funding humanitarian action.”

The OECD’s role in the Grand Bargain has been scoped to provide logistical coordination of expertise and resources between the OECD members to build a more responsive, transparent, efficient, and accountable manner of delivering aid funds to meet humanitarian demand. The OECD’s long-standing mission to “improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world” provides them with the strategic overview to guide member states to remain committed and cooperative.

Yet, a year on from the Summit, the commitment of some key state actors appear to be less generous, cooperative, and forthcoming. This is despite the fact that the crisis in humanitarian need and suffering continues to grow, and there is a historic level of displaced people fleeing areas and regions of intense insecurity.

Shifting political dynamics may yet negate the positive momentum achieved a mere twelve months ago. However, the number of participants still committed to the common goodwill goal of minimizing global human suffering remains substantial. This bodes well for improving humanitarian circumstances, which in turn have the potential to create opportunities for development, stability, and peace. Therefore, while the balance presently appears precarious, the resilience and political will to achieve a collective good should overcome negative impediments raised by a minority of actors.

Carolina Morison