OCHA’s first humanitarian symposium looks to the future of aid

9 December, 2013
Cash assistance to IDPs in Al NAbek, Rural Damascus, August 2012. Credit: UNHCR
Cash assistance to IDPs in Al NAbek, Rural Damascus, August 2012. Credit: UNHCR

The humanitarian landscape is evolving, with global challenges – such as climate change, population growth, rapid and unplanned urbanization, and food and water insecurity – leaving more and more people at risk. At the same time, new types of organizations are becoming increasingly involved in emergency response, from telecommunications companies to diaspora groups.

These changes raise questions: what will the humanitarian system look like in future? What kind of relationships will it have with key groups including donors and beneficiaries?  Where will the international humanitarian system stand in, for example, 2025?

On 12 December 2013, a high-level panel will debate this question and try to visualize the future of humanitarian action at OCHA’s inaugural Humanitarian Symposium, which will be held at UN Headquarters in New York.

A changing system

Today, we see increasing numbers of people requiring international humanitarian assistance. Inter-agency appeals typically target 60-70 million people each year, compared to 30-40 million 10 years ago.

These challenges are coming at an increased cost: the crisis in Syria, for example, added US$4.4 billion to the amount needed for humanitarian action in major crises in 2013, which came to an unprecedented $12.9 billion to help 73 million people in 24 affected countries.

And even greater changes are anticipated. By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water-stressed conditions. By 2030, it is forecast that up to 325 million extremely poor people will be living in the 49 most hazard-prone countries, the majority of them in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

But the way the world is able to respond to humanitarian crises is also changing. A wider range of actors – including non-western NGOs, national and local private sector actors, militaries, diaspora groups, regional organizations, non-state actors, and new donors –are playing a more central role in aid delivery.

David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, a member of the panel at the Symposium, emphasizes: “We know that in the world in 2025, poverty will be more concentrated in fragile states, resource pressure will be crowding in, economic power will be more diffuse, and people’s movements will have increased. Now is the time to plan for the partnerships and innovations that will help our sector rise to the new challenges we will face.”

New technologies and the spread of cell phones and digital connectivity are also transforming the way people respond to emergencies, as has been seen in the remarkable response of the Digital Humanitarian Networkto Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and in other recent disasters.

“The past decade has seen a transformation in how we connect and communicate with people around the planet in moments of greatest need,” says Daniel Baker, the Global Lead on Program Innovation at Accenture Development Partnerships, who will be presenting about the role of the private sector. “I hope in the next decade we will see coordinated humanitarian response that transcends agencies and organizations, and indeed government, non-profit and private sectors.”

Predicting future aid delivery

The Humanitarian Symposium will explore these trends and discuss prospects for the future.

The Symposium will include a high-level panel debate featuring: Ahmed Mohammed Almeraikhi, the Director-General of the Qatar Development Fund; Ambassador Bruno Figueroa, Director-General for Technical and Scientific Cooperation at the Mexican Agency for International Development Cooperation; David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee; Claus Sørensen, Director-General of the European Community Humanitarian Office; and Misikir Tilahun, Head of Programmes at Africa Humanitarian Action.

It will also include expert talks exploring new trends in humanitarian response. In this segment, Patrick Meier, the Director of Social Innovation at the Qatar Computing Research Institute, will discuss the impact of the digital revolution and technology on humanitarian response. Jamie Zimmerman, Director of the Global Assets Project at the New America Foundation, will speak about the growth of cash transfer programming. And Daniel W. Baker, the Global Lead on Program Innovation at Accenture Development Partnerships, will speak about the role of the private sector.

The symposium will be webcast. Members of the public can join the discussion on Twitter with the hashtag #aid2025. For more information see http://www.unocha.org/what-we-do/policy/events/humanitarian-symposium-2013.