The dust has settled on the World Humanitarian Summit but many of the issues discussed at the conference a few weeks ago still dominate the headlines. The devastating impact of the Syrian conflict on civilians. The endless influx of migrants and refugees into Europe. The increasing gap between funding needs and shrinking aid budgets. Is there really something we can do to improve humanitarian aid despite this worrying picture?
About ten years ago I used to work on a demobilisation and reintegration programme for former child combatants in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The job of reuniting these children with their families and helping them find an alternative to holding a Kalashnikov was already a major challenge in itself. Rarely would it get more complicated than when a global personality would come visit the children in the interim care centres where they were staying or publicly launch a new initiative in their favour...
The first-ever World Humanitarian Summit is over, with mixed results. For those, including me, who were hoping the discussion would tackle some of the root causes of humanitarian crises, like the lack of political solutions to fundamentally political problems, the conference was a missed opportunity. At the same time, the summit turned out to be positively surprising, focusing the attention on issues that are normally sidelined in global discussions or, even worse, labelled as ‘charity’.
On 23-24 May the city of Istanbul hosts the world’s first-ever humanitarian summit. About 5,000 leaders from government, business and civil society will gather at the UN’s request to agree more effective ways to address some of the most challenging crises on earth. Why this meeting now? And will it really make any difference to the millions of people affected by natural disasters or conflict around the world?
Last week the OECD, an inter-governmental organisation gathering the world’s richest countries, released its annual figures on how much aid, or overseas development assistance, went to developing countries in 2015. On the surface, there is reason to celebrate: once you take out inflation and exchange rate changes, the overall net amount of aid is the highest ever reported, totaling $131.6 billion after an already record-high couple of years. That’s quite an achievement, particularly for those European donors who last year had to face major unexpected challenges, such as the arrival of migrants and refugees at their doorstep.
Ever since I started working in development I have been struck by how little we talk about its linkages with migration. Most NGOs specialise in either/or. Very few of them have the courage or the capacity to address migration and development together despite the fact that these issues are often two sides of the same coin.
If anything, the growing influx of migrants and refugees into Europe has forced us to start making that link in earnest. Never before have so many people been forced to flee their homes, nearly sixty million worldwide – the equivalent size of Italy’s population.