WHS: A once in a generation opportunity to transform the humanitarian system

24 May, 2016
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The first World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) ended in Istanbul, Turkey today. Even before the summit had opened, UN Humanitarian Chief Stephen O'Brien predicted the gathering would be a "once in a generation opportunity to set in motion an ambitious and far-reaching agenda". Indeed the United Nations, in its 70 years, has never come together at this scale, with so many different stakeholders, to discuss the pressing challenges that are resulting in so much suffering today.

The 23-24 May meeting was attended by a record 9,000 participants from 173 Member States, including 55 Heads of State and Government, hundreds of private sector representatives, and thousands of people from civil society and non-governmental organizations.

The WHS sought, above all, to bring to the forefront of global attention the scale of the changes required to address the challenges before the humanitarian community. It was agreed humanitarian assistance alone can neither adequately address nor sustainably reduce the needs of over 130 million of the world’s most vulnerable people and that a new and coherent approach is required based on addressing root causes, increasing political diplomacy for prevention and conflict resolution, and bringing humanitarian, development and peace-building efforts together.

In his summary report the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted the Summit had “truly been a unique opportunity for the global community to take responsibility to place people first: to secure their safety, to uphold their dignity, and to provide opportunities for a better future.” He praised support generated toward the vision laid out in his report One Humanity: Shared Responsibility and its Agenda for Humanity.

“I am encouraged by how many participants have embraced the five core responsibilities and committed to use them as a framework to improve our collective response to humanity,” he noted. “As we leave Istanbul, we know that the World Humanitarian Summit is only the beginning and not the end of a journey.”

He emphasized there is now broad recognition that humanitarian emergencies can no longer be viewed in isolation from broader sustainable development efforts. He added summit commitments must now give impetus to the new way of working put forward in the Agenda for Humanity. As part of WHS follow-up, all individual and joint commitments made will be reflected in a new “Commitments to Action” platform which will be publicly accessible in order to ensure accountability.

In September, the Secretary-General will report to the United Nations General Assembly on summit achievements and propose specific ways to take commitments made forward. This includes through intergovernmental and inter-agency avenues, as well as the many initiatives, platforms and partnerships launched at the Summit. An annual update will review progress made in implementing what was proposed and achieved at the Summit and committed against the Agenda for Humanity.

He noted the Summit is “a point of departure to act, but there must also be a destination - a point where our action will have helped to transform the lives of millions of people around the world….We owe it to all people affected by crises and owe it to ourselves, in the name of our common humanity and our shared responsibility.”

The Secretary-General has called for the Agenda for Humanity to be turned into an instrument of global transformation.