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ECOSOC Humanitarian Affairs Segment: 5 things you need to know

11 Jul 2013


Tadjoura, Djibouti: Boys carry water back to their homes in northern Djibouti. In the 25 years since the global humanitarian system was created, the needs of vulnerable communities around the world have increased and changed. In Geneva, the 2013 ECOSOC Humanitarian Affairs Segment will look at the future of humanitarian affairs. Credit: UNICEF
Next week, representatives of Member States, UN agencies, humanitarian and development partners, and the private sector will meet in Geneva to discuss the future of humanitarian affairs.

Each year, the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) convenes a month-long gathering of representatives from Member States, UN agencies, humanitarian and development partners, civil society and the private sector. This annual event is broken up into a series of segments, one of which deals with humanitarian affairs.

The 2013 Humanitarian Affairs Segment is being held in Geneva between 15 and 17 July  Here are five things you need to know about it.

1. This year’s theme is “The future of humanitarian affairs: towards greater inclusiveness, coordination, interoperability and effectiveness.” It speaks to the fact that, in the 25 years since the UN General Assembly passed resolution 46/182 creating a global humanitarian system, the nature of crises, and the ways in which we respond to them, have changed dramatically.

Twenty-five years ago, there were relatively few international humanitarian actors. Today, the landscape is much more cluttered. In 2010, at least 3,000 organizations – ranging from UN agencies like the World Food Programme to small ad hoc groups – responded to the Haiti earthquake. Twenty-five years ago, the delineation between donor and recipient governments was reasonably clear. Today, more and more governments are leading the response to crises within their own borders, and are providing support to their neighbours.

2. Humanitarians need to focus more on reducing vulnerability, improving capacity and managing risks. On Tuesday (16 July), the first of two high-level panels will look at how the international community can better respond to rapidly growing humanitarian needs. In each of the past three years, more than 100 million people received humanitarian assistance. Trends such as climate change, rapid population growth, and shifting political and ideological approaches mean that this caseload is likely to continue to increase.

To meet this challenge, humanitarian organizations need to look beyond providing immediate succour, and focus on helping vulnerable communities manage and reduce the risks that they face. In order to do so, humanitarian and development actors will need to find better ways to work together. They will need to share analysis and planning. They will need to implement risk management activities together, and collaborate to strengthen the capacity of national and local actors.

3. Humanitarians need to be more innovative. The second high-level panel (on 17 July) will discuss how the humanitarian community should adapt to keep pace with a rapidly changing world. Innovation is not just about new technologies or ‘inventions’; it is about creating new tools, adopting new approaches and fostering new partnerships to improve and even re-shape how humanitarian organizations respond to challenges.

Participants have been drawn from a range of organizations. Nigel Snoad, who runs Google’s Crisis Response and Civic Innovation team will talk about how the private sector plays an important role in the wake of disasters. Elizabeth Rasmusson will share some of the lessons that WFP has learned in its attempts to find new ways of supporting communities (including through the increased use of cash transfers). Wendy Harman of the American Red Cross will talk about how social media feeds are now at the centre of her organization’s approach to disaster management. Mohamed Osman from Nairobi’s Star FM will speak about the importance of communities having a voice in how crises are dealt with.

4. Revised humanitarian appeals for 2013 will be announced. Each year at ECOSOC, the UN Humanitarian Chief presents the humanitarian community’s revised annual appeal. This revision process ensures that agencies are able to respond to needs as they are in the second half of 2013, and not as they were in December 2012, when the appeals were launched. In South Sudan, for example, modest but marked improvements in the humanitarian situation saw aid agencies slightly reduce their appeal. However in Yemen, the continued critical needs of almost half of the country’s population has seen the 2013 appeal increase slightly, with the UN urging donors to respond to what it has termed critical humanitarian activities.

5. Twenty-two side events (and the first ever humanitarian trade fair) will take place. The Humanitarian Affairs Segment is an annual opportunity for Member States, humanitarian organizations and partners to exchange expertise and information. This year, 22 side events will look at a whole range of issues in more detail. They cover issues from the use of armed escorts in humanitarian convoys to a campaign by the Red Cross and the European Commission to promote awareness of “silent disasters”. For the first time, a humanitarian trade fair featuring more than 20 booths will showcase some of the innovative work that is already being done by humanitarian organizations, the private sector and Member States.

Visit for more information, including on how you can watch the two high-level panels live via UN webcast.