World Humanitarian Summit 23-24 May 2016

The World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) is the first event of its kind: a high-level conference in which global leaders will announce their commitments to improve humanitarian action so that it can face the challenges of today’s world. The WHS, which will take place in Istanbul on the 23 and 24 of May, is an initiative of the United Nations’ Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. The WHS has three main goals:

  1. To re-inspire and reinvigorate a commitment to humanity and to the universality of humanitarian principles.
  2. To initiate a set of concrete actions and commitments aimed at enabling countries and communities to better prepare for and respond to crises, and be resilient to shocks.
  3. To share best practices which can help save lives around the world, put affected people at the centre of humanitarian action, and alleviate suffering.

Among the key issues to be discussed at the WHS is the so-called “Grand Bargain”, a proposal to address the humanitarian financing gap – currently estimated at about USD15 billion. The proposal does not just ask for additional resources, but calls for a better use of the existing money. There will also be special sessions on specific issues such as migration, inclusion of people with disability into humanitarian action, or education in emergencies. Our chair of trustees Mukesh Kapila, who is also a special advisor of the WHS, will be speaking at the special session on Global Health, whose aim is to agree on a framework to better handle health in acute and protracted crises.

The summit has been preceded by months of consultations involving humanitarian actors worldwide to identify their key recommendations for the improvement of humanitarian action. The WHS itself will see the participation of key decision makers at the highest political levels, such as Heads of State or Heads of Government, but also of representatives from various aid organisations and civil society groups, as well as from disaster-affected communities – for a total of about 5,000 participants. A few weeks before the start of the summit, Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) announced its decision to pull out of the WHS, on the grounds that they do not believe anymore that the WHS will address the current weaknesses of the humanitarian system. MSF also fears that the WHS pushes too much for the integration of humanitarian relief and development action. MSF’s withdrawal from the WHS has been criticised by some participants, who argued that while some of MSF’s concerns might be well founded, the best course of action would be to attend the WHS and try to improve humanitarian assistance as much as possible – put it shortly, that “we get the WHS we deserve by what we invest on it”. As for the blurring of the boundaries between the humanitarian and the development domains, some believe it is actually necessary and long overdue, particularly in the context of longer-term displacement.

For all those interested, the WHS will be live-streamed on the event’s website, which also offers a repository of key background documents to the issues on the agenda. Many humanitarians will be also live-tweeting the discussions at the WHS: the official hashtag is #ShareHumanity, but #ReShapeAid and #WHSummit are also used.


Photo credits: World Humanitarian Summit on Flickr