The UN is a septuagenarian whose life began with high hopes but has turned out to be disappointing, particularly in ending human misery and promoting human and state security. This, however, is more the fault of the Security Council mechanism, imported clumsily from the League of Nations that preceded the UN to create a category of major world powers. The world has become larger than five and the current composition of the UNSC, if not the whole body, looks out of place. The UN writ large, however, has been less pretentious yet labouring hard to make a real difference in human lives.
Against this background, it is surprising that the first global summit on humanitarian issues will only be held this year. The World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) will convene in Istanbul on May 23-24 to discuss issues such as managing forced displacement of people—as refugees or internally displaced persons (IDPs)—and supporting host countries and communities. Participants will seek new approaches to managing risks and responding to crises. Securing adequate financing to help save lives and alleviate human suffering, and not the least, ways to empower women and girls will be discussed.
The UN has prepared for the summit through regional consultative meetings, which engaged 23,000 people in 153 countries. Some 5,000 participants will represent governments, business, aid organisations, civil society, affected communities, faith-based organisations and leaders, international and national NGOs, academia, diasporas and youth. The summit is being structured around panoply of meetings, exhibitions and fairs even as political commitments would be sought from the governments and other stakeholders.
The WHS is timely as the world is facing major humanitarian disasters. Many calamities are mainly due to failed polities that can’t govern themselves or can’t adapt to the course of history and thus decay. Others are due to natural disasters. Of particular visibility is the refugee flows. Last year, the world witnessed the highest number of displaced peoples since WWII. Most of them come from Africa, western and south Asia. One in every 122 persons is either a refugee, IDP, or seeking asylum. Migration across developing countries has been faster than movements from poorer figurative south towards developed north. Migration is a global phenomenon—244 million are living in places other than their country of birth. In many cases migration is literally an act of survival; three million Syrians were saved from near death by escaping to Turkey.
Yet, hosting refugees is a thankless job. Inconvenienced even by the arrival of relatively smaller numbers of refugees, Europeans have pushed Turkey to do the heavy-lifting. The second jeopardy is the post-colonial Global South that resents transformative humanitarianism, which smacks of neo-imperialism. Many receiving societies suspect the intentions of Western humanitarians given the history of abuse. International organisations are dominated by Western managements, which make things worse. These may change in time. Already India, China, Brazil and Turkey are generous partners, each contributing more than most traditional donors. Turkey is the third largest humanitarian spender and first compared to her GDP. But there is no time to be lost. Teleological discussions must continue along with practical actions.
Ultimately, only good governance and economic development would remove the sources of recurring disasters, at least self-inflicted ones. Thus, strengthening the humanitarian-development nexus, aiding the refugees and countries bordering the conflict zones (rather than patronising them), while elaborating collaborative formulas among the stakeholders are essential tasks. Obviously, all solutions require political will and global engagement.
As an exasperated former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, said: “There are no humanitarian solutions to humanitarian problems.” I hope India will show a profile at the WHS commensurate with its weight and promise in the humanitarian field.
Burak Akcapar is a Turkish ambassador, professor and author. You can follow him on his twitter handle @akcapar.