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The World Humanitarian Summit: ambitious global commitments to end conflict and suffering?

After Turkey, InterAction evaluates the first World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), an unprecedented meeting gathering stakeholders working to solve humanitarian issues around the world. Lauren Rajczak, Security Coordinator from InterAction, says the WHS “provided a time for governments, the United Nations and civil society to take a collective step back and reaffirm our commitments to ending conflict and suffering”

After Turkey, InterAction evaluates the first World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), an unprecedented meeting gathering stakeholders working to solve humanitarian issues around the world. Lauren Rajczak, Security Coordinator from InterAction, says the WHS “provided a time for governments, the United Nations and civil society to take a collective step back and reaffirm our commitments to ending conflict and suffering”

Lauren Rajczak, Security Coordinator, InterAction

1-. What is the political context that entails the creation of the World Humanitarian Summit, after more than 70 years of the creation of the UN?

Globally, the world is at a crossroads. Political inaction has allowed multi-year conflicts to continue unabated, creating record numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons. The World Humanitarian Summit provided a time for governments, the United Nations and civil society to take a collective step back and reaffirm our commitments to ending conflict and suffering, upholding the norms that safeguard humanity and ensure people’s live are changed for the better due to our collective actions.

2-. What is your view on the 5 key actions proposed by the Secretary General in the Agenda for Humanity? Here more information

The five pillars of the Secretary General’s Agenda for Humanity are consistent themes globally in almost every conflict and context we are witnessing today. The Syrian Conflict is in its 6th year, the conflict in Yemen just marked its 1st anniversary and shows no sign of abating, the conflict in Afghanistan has ebbed and flowed since the early 2000s. We are seeing a record number attacks on aid workers, medical facilities, education facilities, and civilians. We need to move beyond working the way we’ve always worked. We need to challenge how to shift to ensure responses are driven by the affected people themselves. Creating sustainable peace and viable economies will take collective effort while ensuring adherence to the fundamentals and principles of humanitarian action underpin all we do.

3-. Which are the possibilities or channels that civil society has to participate on the preparation, carrying out and follow-up to the Summit? How do you evaluate this Summit in the framework of the civil society work?

InterAction and its members participated in the three-year consultative process, which led to the World Humanitarian Summit. There were regional and thematic consultations globally and civil society was provided the opportunity to engage and shape the Secretary-General’s Agenda for Humanity. Following the announcement of the commitment process, InterAction and its member launched an intensive dialogue to develop very specific commitments NGOs could make before, during and after the Summit. InterAction and its members focused our commitments on those issues and areas where NGOs can make a tangible, practical impact relying heavily on our capabilities and capacities versus those dependent on political entities and/or donors. Multiple civil society organizations also released their own set of commitments in alignment with the Secretary-General’s Agenda for Humanity, which were specific to their organizational mandate and goals. One area where one could see heavily the influence and impact of civil society was during the WHS side events, which were broad ranging in topic and included a mix of civil society leaders as well as heads of UN agencies and senior UN member state representatives.

From the perspective of InterAction, the success of the World Humanitarian Summit beyond the event itself remains to be determined. We are still awaiting release of all of the commitments made during the summit and the release of the Secretary-General’s report this [American] fall. The most important aspect of civil society work moving forward post-WHS is ensuring we remain focused and diligent in our efforts to ensure accountability to commitments made by ourselves, member states and others.

4-. What are the most important changes that this Summit promoted for civil society and NGOs?

The World Humanitarian Summit highlighted the range of different actors needed to address unprecedented levels of suffering, and recognized the comparative strengths that each can bring in implementing long-term solutions. The Summit brought together leaders from governments, businesses, international and regional organizations, humanitarian organizations, first responders, community networks, academia and civil society in a spirit of partnership and collaboration that must now continue beyond the Summit itself and become the basis for how we work collectively in future.

5-. What is your view on the INGOs that refused to participate in this Summit?

Each INGO had to make their own determination if participation in the WHS was beneficial to their organization and the populations that they serve. InterAction made a determination that our engagement in the World Humanitarian Summit was key to advocating on behalf on the set of concrete commitments our members made prior to the Summit as well as using the opportunity to highlight our ongoing concerns over where the humanitarian endeavor is under threat.

6-. Through the Agenda for Humanity, the Secretary-General asks all stakeholders to accept and act upon 5 core responsibilities to deliver for humanity. But, similar to other international meetings, conclusions/outcomes of the WSH are not legally binding. How is the “grand bargain” going to concretely influence humanitarian aid from now on?

The grand bargain, as with many other commitments made, will require voluntary enforcement. The grand bargain was developed with the spirit of working together as peers for the betterment of populations served by the humanitarian response.

7-. Do you think the follow-up to the WSH will live up to the expectations of the proposed reform on the humanitarian system?
Success depends upon all those who made commitments at the WHS delivering against their promises in the short, medium and long term. InterAction members are already developing a plan for how we will hold ourselves to account on the U.S.NGO commitments, and we will expect the same of others. Forthcoming Summits will provide a valuable opportunity to maintain focus and momentum, but the real test will be efforts made organizationally and collectively to transform words into actions that reduce suffering around the world.