The World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) was meant to be about commitments. Two days of commitments to change the way we address humanitarian need. We were told strictly by UNOCHA that “The roundtables are not a time to discuss the issues”. A strange thing to be told when there are as many issues as there are in the humanitarian system. UNOCHA argued that the past two years of consultations was the chance to discuss the issues and now it was time to share solutions we each will be putting into practice.
So I was quite confused when after 45 minutes of listening to the WHS Roundtable on Political Leadership to Prevent and End Conflict I was yet to hear a single commitment. Instead I heard multiple variations of “We think preventing conflict is important” from member states. Well I think that goes without saying! But no one mentioned any concrete things that they would do towards that goal. In fact, many of the commitments discussed at the WHS were actually previously committed at the COP21, or simply things organisations had already been doing for years. For a Summit that was meant to “re-shape aid”, there were a surprising amount of commitments to business as usual. It could be argued that one exception is the Grand Bargain, an agreement which has taken some initial steps towards changing humanitarian funding practices, including ensuring that a proportion of funds goes to local actors. However, some argue it did not go far enough, and with only 15 donors and 15 humanitarian agencies negotiating and signing the agreement, many question how much it can achieve. You can read one perspective and a summary of the agreement here.
Like many UN Summits I have attended, it was the side events where I heard the most interesting discussions about change and opportunity. GNDR members CBM and Handicap International helped launch the Charter for Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities, with the aim to ensure persons with disabilities are systematically included in humanitarian decision making. GNDR members Japanese CSO Coalition for DRR, Act Alliance and Centre for Disaster Preparedness discussed what could be needed to create a global alliance that breeds innovation for humanitarian action.
Without any plan to monitor ‘commitments’ from the WHS, I guess we may never know if we have re-shaped aid or continued business as usual. However, whilst I think political leaders missed an important opportunity to lay down concrete ways they could more effectively alleviate need, I do think the issues important to local communities climbed higher on some people’s agendas.