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Policy Brief

Seize the opportunity: turning ambition into action for the world’s most vulnerable people

Last updated:
20 May 2016
Concern Worldwide

In advance of the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul on 23–24 May 2016, Concern has published this report, the central message of which is that humanitarian aid can no longer be used as a substitute for failed diplomacy or lack of political will to find solutions to protracted global problems.

Internally displaced people queuing at a Protection of Civilian camp near Juba, South Sudan.
Internally displaced people queuing at a camp in South Sudan. Photo: Crystal Wells/Concern Worldwide

Foreword by Dominic MacSorley, CEO, Concern Worldwide

Within the humanitarian world, it is during the defining crises of our times – Biafra, the Rwanda genocide, the Indian Ocean tsunami, the Haitian earthquake – the times when we are most stretched, that the strengths and limitations of our collective response are brought to the fore.

Out of the fire of these crises the humanitarian community reflected and reformed. We achieved greater professionalism, more rigorous thinking, more transparency, efficiency and accountability, often in some of the world’s most challenging and dangerous working environments.

We should take stock of our progress, but in Istanbul we must focus our attention on those we are still failing. The brutal reality is that we are still remarkably absent in hundreds of communities across war-torn Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and Central African Republic.

We need to do better

The twin scourges of conflict and climate change have led to a remarkably high level of global suffering and the patchwork humanitarian system that has evolved over the past 70 years is unarguably struggling to handle the burden of today’s crises. We need to think hard about what we need to change. We can and need to do better.

We must also recognise that we cannot bear the responsibility for what is beyond humanitarian capacity and control. Ebola was a failure of prevention and of development policy. Syria is a shameful failure of the global political system.

Our central message to send to national leaders at the Summit, is that humanitarian aid can no longer be used as a substitute for failed diplomacy or lack of political will to find solutions to protracted conflicts.

Turning rhetoric into reality

Concern welcomes the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon’s report, “One humanity: shared responsibility”, and the resultantAgenda for humanity”. The Agenda is bold, ambitious and has a vision with the potential to be truly transformative. The challenge now is to turn ambition into action, to turn rhetoric into reality, and to genuinely tackle the causes of humanitarian need and the biggest obstacles to effective humanitarian action.

The World Humanitarian Summit represents an historic opportunity to shape the future of humanitarian action and to make a difference to the lives of the 125 million disaster-affected people around the world. It cannot be satisfied merely by proposing more structural changes to the humanitarian system. It must tackle the root causes of crises at a political level, and the political decisions that allow conflict to flourish. Anything less is a failure.

We need political and moral leadership that is courageous, far-sighted and grounded in the founding values of human rights. Our language must be bold, clear and unambiguous, turning rhetoric to reality, reframing our commitments, not as future aspirations but as rights: the right to have enough to eat; to access health services; the right to work; and to equality, freedom from fear, persecution and violence. Language is important – if we talk of these as rights, we move from aspiration to obligation, and from ambition to action. We need that rigour, discipline and accountability if we are to deliver on the promise of leaving no one behind.

Our commitments

Concern is drawing on almost 50 years of experience reaching the poorest and most vulnerable communities. In this document, we have published 22 commitments aligned to the Secretary General’s “Agenda for humanity”, which include our commitments on prevention, preparedness, increasing our response capacity, as well as ensuring that at least 25% of Concern’s humanitarian funding goes through national partners. In addition, we are leveraging our position as a networked organisation to deliver three key commitments for achieving greater global impact.

  1. Delivering faster, more effective, more accountable, and more efficient humanitarian responses in the poorest and most vulnerable contexts through our leadership of Alliance2015, which brings together seven NGOs operating in 89 countries with a collective budget of over $950 million.
  2. Fulfilling our goal of training 20,000 frontline humanitarian staff and stakeholders in improved humanitarian response through the Building a Better Response initiative by 2018. 
  3. Using our leadership at the Irish Consortium on Gender Based Violence, to support a coordinated global approach to prevent and respond to gender based violence in conflict and crises.

Our calls on global leaders

Concern is also calling on global leaders to:

  1. Commit to a world where affected populations receive essential humanitarian aid – food, shelter, water and protection, within 24 hours of the onset of crises.
  2. Expand UN Resolution 2286, intended to prevent attacks on medical staff and facilities, to include all humanitarian aid workers, and hold to account those who violate this resolution.  
  3. Reinvigorate negotiations for a global, intergovernmental mechanism for compliance and violation monitoring of international humanitarian law.
  4. Establish a more robust preventative diplomacy rapid deployment mechanism, based on the Elders model, to seek resolutions at the onset of emerging conflicts
  5. Close the funding gaps, increasing humanitarian funding to 20% of total official development aid (ODA), making it longer term and genuinely accessible to key humanitarian responders

Embracing the Global Goals

The vision of the Sustainable Development Goals, agreed by all world leaders at last year’s United Nations Summit, is one of a more peaceful, sustainable world achieved by 2030. As a humanitarian community, it is our responsibility to embrace this vision, to harness the momentum generated by its ambition and global reach. The Sustainable Development Goals however, will never be achieved if we do not seize the opportunity in Istanbul to deliver real transformative political change that tackles the root causes of humanitarian crises. The commitments delivered at the World Humanitarian Summit must be forged into a new binding Humanitarian Agenda that compels us to address the deficit of humanity that has led to levels of suffering, cruelty and hardship that we thought we had left behind last century.

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