The first World Humanitarian Summit hopes to provide a better international system to answer crisis

News - The first World Humanitarian Summit has taken place on the beginning of this week in Istanbul, in the hope of improving living conditions for victims of the numerous humanitarian crisis in the world. The actual international humanitarian system is in dire need of new measures that would enable victims to be adequately taken care of. However, though the First Humanitarian Summit appears as a good step in the right direction, specifically by giving a great exposure and visibility to the cause, the Summit is already being criticized for its lack of proper action and accountability.


The first world humanitarian summit, meant to provide further aid to victims of humanitarian crisis by uniting all sectors

"It is shameful how the rich world moans about the refugees, and leaves the poor to shoulder the burden. Europe must do more”, said the executive director of Oxfam International Winnie Byanyima in a recent interview with Al Jazeera. The idea behind the first World Humanitarian Summit, which took place Monday 23rd and Tuesday 24th May, is indeed to reunite representatives from all sectors involved, such as from governments, business, non-profit organizations, and the academia world, in the hope of coming up with new policies and commitments that would enable fairness between States and, more importantly, a better care of victim of humanitarian crisis. According to the United Nations, recent crisis, composed of conflicts, climate change induced and naturel disasters, have led in the last few years more than 125 million persons in need of urgent assistance. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has stated that a World Humanitarian Summit dealing with humanitarian needs and “declining political will” should now takes place every four years.

A wide range of commitments

The Summit was attended by more than 100 representatives of governments amongst the 193 UN member states. Core commitments discussed on a number of topics, going from the importance of preventing as well as ending wars, to the promotion of norms of humanitarian law, which should be upheld by all States, without forgetting the necessity to establish gender equality and resilience to climate change and natural disasters, which also encompass forced displacements.
The issue of funding was also tackled, as it remains a major factor for States for being able to come through with these commitments, especially for less developed countries or the ones more impacted by humanitarian crisis. According to the 2013 Global Humanitarian Assistance report, the United States were the main donors with 3,8 billion of dollars, followed by the European institutions with 1,9 billion and the United Kingdom with 1,2 billion. Turkey, also hosting the event, ranks also third in the list of countries having contributed to the most international humanitarian work, both in 2012 and 2013. As for Canada, which has recently pledged a 256-million increase in foreign development assistance in its UN budget, the International Development Minister Claide Bibeau has announced further contributions in humanitarian aid, one of 274 million and another of 331.5 million. While it is indeed raising Canada’s contributions to humanitarian efforts, it remains under the UN’s target for aid spending, which is supposed to account to 0.7 percent of gross national income. 
The Summit has also discussed means of making humanitarian funding more flexible and predictable at long term, while it provided a platform for NGOs and other organizations to ameliorate their coordination.
The importance of taking into account local and national actors was also on the table, as an answer to the reclamations of local and national NGOs which are the ones which are the most intensively solicited when periods of crisis arise. As part of what was called the “Great Bargain”, donators have agreed to demand less bureaucratic formalities, while organizations themselves have pledged to alleviate their bureaucracy, often responsible of the slowness of answers to crisis.

A summit made of good intentions but lacking in proper action?

While organizing the first World Humanitarian Summit does send a strong signal to the international community, a number of issues are still prominent and for many, this Summit remains underwhelming. Most notably, the leaders of the G7 countries were all absent, at the exception of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In a press conference on Tuesday 24th May, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed his disappointment that “some world leaders could not be here especially those from G7 countries […]. The absence of these leaders does not provide excuse for inaction. They have a unique responsibility to promote peace and stability”.
Apart from this conspicuous absence, the fragility of the commitments themselves were criticized. Indeed, all commitments made during the Summit remain non-binding – the UN still hasn’t the abilities to enforce financial pledges or commitments. 
Doctors Without Borders qualified the event of a “fig-leaf of good intentions”, and refused to participate, claiming that States should be held accountable. Stephen Cornish, executive director of Doctors Without Borders Canada, told the press that "States increasingly and shamelessly brush aside legal frameworks that once ensured a minimum of hope and humanity for people caught up in crises and war, and for those fleeing violence and despair. The World Humanitarian Summit could have been an opportunity to address these vital issues but failed to do so”. 

If the commitments decided at the event will be fulfilled remain to be seen. However, the fact that an World Humanitarian Summit exists now as a platform allowing all actors from different settings and sectors to discuss solutions and means to alleviate human suffering and provide a better, more coordinated and efficient humanitarian aid remains a good step forward and a good sign for the future.

Léa Guinet, Coordinator at CIPADH



Al Jazeera, "World Humanitarian Summit attacks "broken" system", 24th may 2016. Available at: 

Euronews, "UN chief Ban voices his disappointment as First World Humanitarian Summit closes", 24th May 2016. Available at: 

Sherry Nolk, "World Humanitarian Summit critisized for lack of action, accountability", CBC News, 24th May 2016. Available at:

An-Nahar, "Somet humanitaire à Istanbul: Lutter contre la bureaucratie pour rendre l'aide plus efficace", 24th May 2016. Available at: