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Collective action needed to combat humanitarian crises

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

The World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) to be held in Istanbul in late May 2016 will certainly be an important turning point in the way we collectively address the challenges facing humanity. Ankara and the U.N. have organized this historic meeting together, at a time when many humanitarian crises and international challenges have caused international friction and forced the rethinking of how to address the root causes of these tragedies.

Causes

Humanitarian crises are becoming more frequent in our world, as a result of both man-made and natural causes. In Somalia both combine, as a result of civil war and drought together creates complex crises, which are often managed ineffectively by all stakeholders. These failures in turn make the situation worse, to the detriment of society and can generate cycles of humanitarian, political and environmental crises.

Today in Syria, Libya, Yemen and many other places across the world, war, violence, terrorism and fear are driving people from their homes and into refugee camps in unprecedented numbers. Ankara must be commended for its leadership and generosity in welcoming and resettling many of the desperate and exhausted Syrian refugees in camps, and allowing them access to the labor market without prejudice. In addition, many EU member states, particularly Germany, have led the way in campaigning and actually resettling Syrian refugees; this is an effort which deserves recognition and support.

In a globalizing and economically competitive world, there are new environmental challenges and risks which are now causing desertification, floods and poverty. The number of refugees will continue to increase, if urgent preventative actions are not taken early and collectively to combat these severe and mutually reinforcing problems.

Solutions

Humanitarian crises, whatever their root causes, create misery, human insecurity and international tension. These crises destroy lives, communities and entire countries, of which Syria is just one that has reached the media headlines.

Given the above, it is important that the WHS brings together all stakeholders to think of the way forward for the humanitarian action which the world needs today and tomorrow. Even more importantly, it is vital to identify and implement policies which will ensure sustainable development for all by examining the root causes, so that these crises, where possible, could be avoided in the first place.

Coming from a country where some parts of the year there are floods, and others there are droughts, humanitarian action needs to become innovative, locally-designed and led, and it must be focused on imparting knowledge and skills as the basis for investment, not just aid, so that progress is durable. Alongside governments, international NGOs and consultants, the local people most affected must own and lead the response and prevention processes so that these crises are not repeated, as many are today because of a lack of an appropriate, effective approach.

Indeed the cost of humanitarian disasters is emotionally immeasurable and we sympathize deeply with the most affected and offer support through their most difficult hours. However, sympathy is not enough. In financial terms the requirements are rising at a time when in some cases international contributions are either stagnant or falling due to the effects of the global financial crisis. A way to address this is to permanently build in investment promotion and economic development support into assistance projects and packages. International donors and partners should also explore providing countries affected by humanitarian crises with preferential trade treatment for a period of time to stabilize the economy. This is likely to lead to a much quicker turn around for affected countries, as skills will be maintained and competitive industries will be saved from destruction by migration and total sectoral collapse. Donors will also benefit as a result of the reduced number of refugees and the official direct assistance which they will have to commit to pay.

Humanitarian crises require more than just meetings to resolve: They need global leadership to prevent conflict and agree on international actions and policies to confront the damaging and painfully repetitive root causes such as conflict, injustice and poverty, to name but a few. National governments also need to strengthen public response and resilience, good governance and promote inclusive development and economic growth. Preventing humanitarian crises requires partnership, without which it is not possible.

The above does not always require new legislation and policies, as the agreed U.N. Sustainable Development Goals in September 2015 encompass most of the peace and development-promoting commitments required to achieve these goals. All that remains now is sustained and committed action from us all to bring them to fruition, for the security and progress of humanity today, and post-WHS in Istanbul.

By Dr. Abdusalam H. Omer

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